Why You Should See Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Manby director Malik Bendjelloul, is like a fairy-tale story come true, one of the coolest and astonishing movies that happens to be real. It’s an Oscar-nominated documentary about an unknown guy with an extraordinary talent who became a sensation in another country, yet he didn’t know about it for decades. He was living a simple life in Detroit, doing construction work and bricklaying, all the while he was a famous musician in South Africa.

Warning, possible spoiler: I hope that I am not giving anything away anything crucial by disclosing the movie starts out by making you think the guy is dead. That he committed suicide. That he lit himself on fire on stage one night or, if you listened to another report, shot himself in the head after somebody heckled him. Then, you find out he’s not dead after all.

And the thing is his music is good. He wrote insightful, meaningful lyrics that resonated with people, touched souls and hearts. Why he didn’t become famous in America all those years ago is a big mystery but he did become a star in South Africa. Without his knowledge. While I watched the movie, it dawned on me that Sixto Rodriguez, this rock star who wasn’t dead, was probably about 10 years older than me, and I pretty much hit the nail on the head. Much of his music was recorded in the late 1960s, early 1970s, during my teenage years, so it probably carried more relevance for me than it would for a person who grew up a different era.

There are many levels to this movie that will touch you, though. It’s not just a story about a guy who became famous and didn’t know it, it’s also about how he influenced a nation, what his music meant to the people of South Africa. What those songs still mean to them today. It’s about a man who doesn’t seem to let fame or money change who he is — he still lives in Detroit in the home he bought for $50 at a government auction in the mid 1970s. He plays sold-out concerts at huge stadiums in South Africa. He gives away his money.

Searching for Sugar Man is inspirational. It won the Producers Guild Award this weekend for best documentary. You can get it from Netflix. You can also see Sixto Rodriguez perform in person at upcoming shows at Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall, a handful of European festivals and yes, more Cape Town concerts next month. You can buy Cold Fact and Coming From Reality as CDs online. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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