Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Makes me ponder if all of those Jim Morrison death-tales are true. Hitchin’ a ride to France! See ya soon.

Rodriguez is an artist’s name none of you common-folk may know (hell, I don’t even know), but if you go to South Africa, they’ll tell you everything about him. However, everything except where he is, who he is, and just if he’s alive or not. This is a documentary where we not only talk about his past, where he came from, what he did, and why he has remained so obscure over the years, but whether or not this guy is able to be found or not. Just watch and see the results for yourself.

I’m a huge music fan, but I never, ever knew who the hell Rodriguez was. Before I started crying, opening-up my Spotify account, and start listening to all of that person’s albums, from beginning-to-end to know what all of the fuss was about, I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t alone considering he sold about six copies of his first album in America. However, on the other side of the planet in South Africa, that’s a totally different story. Not only is the man referred to as a legend there, but the guy was banned from regular radio-play as his promiscuous lyrics were apparently too much for the South African-government that was also going through Apartheid as well. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the simple fact that the guy made millions and millions off of this record, but yet, has no idea of it whatsoever. That’s where this story really kicks in and we get to discover just where this man is, who he is, and why he walked away from it all.

The guitar's totally weighing him down.
Totally weighing him down.

Right off the bat, you can really tell that these filmmakers not only respect their subject, but idolize him as well. So much is made about him before they even get to the tracking-shite, as we hear about famed-stories of him playing music, getting noticed, recording, doing concerts, supposedly killing himself and getting away from it all. This is all interesting as it made me feel as if I was really hearing about one guy in particular, or just some legend that everybody loved and made some pretty awesome music (song is still in my head). After awhile, I did realize that this was just one person in particular that these peeps were all talking about, but the ride didn’t just end there.

The next part of this documentary was tracking the guy and it put me on a real roller-coaster not knowing if they were ever going to find him and if they were, what type of mental state would he be in. It was cool to see all of these interviews where certain people would talk about where they think he is, why they think it, and how others can search for him themselves, which interested me because they find him just through looking at one of his lyrics where he actually mentions an area in Detroit. Now, I never thought that they would go this far, but apparently they really wanted to and thought it was worth it all! Can’t say I argue with it all that much after seeing the movie, but still, something is still lingering in my mind about it.

Okay now, before I jump into all of the wrong and terrible stuff about this movie, let me just keep on going with the goodies. The subject of Rodriguez because not only is he one of those obscure artists that has his own following, but because as time continues on and the adventure builds up and up, we get to understand learn more about this dude and what is so significant about him and his life of music. We hear so many people throw air up the dude’s ass, but we never fully understand it or hear it for that matter. Then, we go to South Africa where we see this guy’s legend take ahold and give hope to a bunch of people that needed it. It was cool to see that music could still keep people alive and well, even in the days of the Apartheid.

Just the whole idea that there was this one musical-icon that so many people loved and cherished, would all of a sudden, get up, and decide to leave it one day and never be found really surprises the hell out of me. It seems that in today’s day and age that staying completely out of the lime-light and being able to get away with it, is almost a ludicrous-idea, but the man was able to get away with it and from what I think now; probably still is. Just so cool to see where this movie goes, how it goes to where it does, and where it ends up. However, that’s the problem: where it ends up.

Everything that leads up to the initial meet-up with Rodriguez is awesome because the director and producers seem to love the hell out of Rodriguez so much, that they want to treat his real-life story with tender, love, care, and respect without offending him or anyone in the process. However, that’s the exact problem: they care TOO much about the guy. Once they finally get a chance to speak with Rodriguez, see what he’s been up to, and find out why he left the music world in the first place, the interview is so worthless and dry that I honestly had no idea if I was watching warm-ups or the actual interview itself.

At age 70, he still has dreams of making it big one day. That's after he gets more than $5 from the subway passengers.
At age 70, he still has dreams of making it big one day. That’s after he gets more than $5 from the subway passengers.

For instance, once Rodriguez is told that he was a huge star in South Africa and how he feels about that, he just simply replies, “Uhmmm…well…I…uhmm…don’t know what to say to that.” Okay, that’s fine, it’s what he wants to say but that is all apparently fine with these creator’s heads. They think that’s a suitable answer and it will suffice. For any person who has ever watched a good documentary, you always know that the key to a good documentary about an interesting subject is being able to get all answers out of that person as much as possible. This interview here seemed to be all about heavy-petting and high-fiving all of the way.

Hey, I’m glad that these guys finally got to meet their hero and had a chance to chat about the dude’s life, but don’t hype it up for me so much to the point of where I’m getting the willies in my chair as to whether or not this guy’s going to be getting gnawed-on by some rottweilers  or if he’s going to be same old hippie he once was before. It’s nice to know that the guy is still pleasant and happy in his latter-days, but it seems like there should have just been more with the interview with the man and more about him in general. Instead, most is just left on the cutting-room floor where we may be able to see it one day in the DVD-extras. Maybe. I don’t know if I’m going to go that serious looking for this.

Consensus: Searching for Sugar Man has exactly all of the right ingredients for a great documentary: interesting subject, mystery, suspense, and great look, feel, and sound. But it’s also missing the mist important ingredient of all that would have made it a “great” documentary, instead of just a “good” one: the hard-hitting questions we all wanted to hear answered, for better or worse.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Hey, it's me, Rodriguez. Remember me?"
Just cooled down from breaking that chair behind him.


  1. Confused as to what more you’re asking for out of it Dan. Rodriguez was obviously just a very introverted guy without a lot of desire for the limelight. I know I wasn’t dissatisfied with his interviews or answers at all…

    That aside, this story is completely incredible. I wouldnt have believed it if it werent a documentary. Some fiction movie sets this up? I’m saying, “Nah, cmon, thats so unbelievable”… As it is though, its almost miraculous what happens to this guy. 😯

    • I think some of this is a bit put-on, but it’s still very interesting and compelling nonetheless. However, it didn’t really work me quite as well as it did to others.

  2. I still really want to watch it because I have always loved Rodriguez (yep, he is/was pretty big here in South Africa), but I see this is getting very mixed reviews. I will have to see 🙂

  3. I pretty much felt the same way you did on this film Dan. Even gave it the same score. It was a wonderful surprise yet lacking something that I just couldn’t put my hands on. Hope they do a full feature on this story.

  4. Good review. I think the answer to your problem with the interviewing is connected to my one complaint with the film: they manipulated the timeline of the events to pump up their own importance in bringing Rodriguez back into the limelight. They didn’t find him; Rodriguez’ daughter came across their website and contacted them. Until then they supposedly had no clue he was even still alive – despite the fact that he was also a huge star in Australia, had toured there many times in the late 70s and early 80s, and had even released another album titled “ALIVE” in the 80s in response to all the rumors of his death. The interview you cite as being awkward was obviously done for the film. In other words, sometime in 2010-2011. Rodriguez is visibly older there than in the footage of him from his visit to South Africa in the 90s. Rodriguez doesn’t really know what to say since it’s not a real interview and they are just trying to re-create their first meeting.

  5. I agree about the mixed feelings. My impression was that while the filmmakers had that one great bit of novelty (pop singer giving it all up, perceived dead, starts a new life, while he is getting more famous every minute), they are not skilled enough as documentary authors to really make something out of it, finding an angle to make me care. When you boil down the story to its essential, there is not even too much of a sensational feel to it: he used to be a musician, now he’s in construction, but his old records still kind of sell. Hmm… That’s kind of nice for him, but he is not interesting or edgy enough of a character to make watching his interview bits work. Apart from that, there is just the short news item of a rediscovered former pop start, blown up into a feature length documentary. Did not help that I do not care too much for his kind of music…

  6. Cheers for the fantastic comments Dan. Yeah, I agree that there was some manipulation of the story but, for me the sadness lay in the fact that such a musical talent was somehow passed over. It was a story I had no idea about and I enjoyed the trip, even if it was a little over-sensationalised. I thought the music and the sense of redemption were really beautiful. I have even bought the OST. Thanks for stopping by. All the best, P.

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