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Generally favorable reviews - based on 32 Critics What's this?

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8.7

Universal acclaim- based on 53 Ratings

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  • Summary: Searching for Sugar Man tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest '70s rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late '60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez. (Sony Pictures Classics) Expand
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 28 out of 32
  2. Negative: 0 out of 32
  1. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Oct 19, 2012
    100
    All music docs are not created equal. Yes, some are formulaic. But some are beautiful, some are singular, some are marvels of storytelling. And some, like Searching for Sugar Man, are all three.
  2. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Jul 26, 2012
    100
    A musical detective story, this enthralling documentary focuses on a little-known American musician whose haunting voice and poetic lyrics were essentially unknown in his own country, but had a massive impact across the globe.
  3. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Sep 20, 2012
    88
    Rodriguez' inner peace wins us over. He seems to have enjoyed recording music, fathering kids, cleaning houses, playing sold-out gigs and simply strumming a guitar in his kitchen. Searching for Sugar Man reminds us that a wise man knows lasting riches are never the result of record sales.
  4. Reviewed by: Matt Glasby
    Jul 23, 2012
    80
    The tale is better than the telling – and the soundtrack's better still – but music this monumental demands its moment. Now go and buy the album.
  5. Reviewed by: Michelle Orange
    Jul 28, 2012
    75
    Sugar Man is most interesting when it touches on the conditions that combined to draw a cult hero out of some decent music and a generously enabled, imagination-firing mystique.
  6. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Jun 26, 2012
    70
    A winning musical detective story about a failed, forgotten early '70s rocker.
  7. Reviewed by: Justin Lowe
    Jun 26, 2012
    50
    While all the interview subjects are enthusiastic, the overall lack of familiarity with Rodriquez's personal background and career collapse begin to drag.

See all 32 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 16
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 16
  3. Negative: 0 out of 16
  1. Sep 1, 2012
    10
    Love this documentary! I'd never heard of Rodriguez and was completely engrossed. A really fascinating story from beginning to end. Do not miss this one. Expand
  2. Jan 28, 2013
    10
    How did the rest of the world miss this man! I am not much on documentaries but was drawn in by the music. Definitely glad I saw this and am now a true fan! Expand
  3. Oct 27, 2012
    10
    This is a terrific documentary about a remarkably talented man and the vagaries of the music business. Indeed, the vagaries of life. See it. There are shades of "It's a Wonderful Life" here--the people unwittingly touched and the events unknowingly changed by a single life, even though half way round the world. But, at the center, Rodriquez appears rock steady, grounded, modest, and philosophical. Expand
  4. Mar 20, 2013
    10
    Probably the best documentary I have ever seen. 'Nuff said. Since a review needs to be a ridiculous 150 characters long, here's the rest.....best documentary I have ever seen, best documentary I have ever seen, best documentary I have ever seen, best documentary I have ever seen, best documentary I have ever seen. Expand
  5. Jan 25, 2013
    9
    "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent," Lorenzo told his idealistic son Calogero in Robert De Niro's A Bronx Tale, and that moral could be tweaked to read "the saddest thing in life is an unrecognized talent" for Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man, an astonishing documentary achievement that provides viewers with an uplifting, stranger-than-life story about a folk singer named Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez released two vinyls in the seventies, one called Cold Fact and a follow up record called Coming from Reality. Both albums were met with critical acclaim for being lyrically challenging and sung to perfection, yet in North America, they went highly unnoticed, leading Rodriguez to fade into absolute obscurity after being dropped by his record label.

    Then something strange happened. By some miraculous state of affairs, his album wound up in none other than South Africa, where it was frequently bootlegged and sold on the black market. People were playing the music, children dancing to it in the streets, and the quiet, sheltered culture of South Africa, which was kept a pariah in terms of outside media and news, was embracing the rebellious nature of Rodriguez's lyrics about anti-establishment and drug use.

    How the album even got to South Africa is nothing but a mystery. Rumor has it that a young woman visiting her boyfriend bought the vinyl over and played it to him and his friends, who burned copies of it for their own friends who did the same, and so on. It then became a phenomenon that spread through the age-old ways of a word-of-mouth campaign, and soon enough, Rodriguez became South Africa's Elvis Presley. Maybe bigger, we're even told.

    But where was Rodriguez when this was happening. One must remember that this is not only the 1970's, but this is the 1970's with no internet, and in a country that has been sheltered off from the world politically and socially, so very little information was coming in and going out. All many people had was a bootlegged vinyl, which bared the credits of those involved, and the lyrics of the songs, which were highly ambiguous. Rodriguez's most popular songs, "Sugar Man," "I Wonder," and "Crucify Your Mind," were easily accessible, easy and thought-provoking to listen to, yet difficult to define.

    Had it not been for the efforts of Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, two South African men who reside in Cape Town, that question would still be asked today. Thanks to their bravery and persistency in trying to track down the quietly famous singer, it turns out that Rodriguez was, and still is, living a very modest lifestyle in the Detroit, Michigan area, acting as a drifter-character, often playing nightclubs and seedy bars for little to no money. He is, too, unaware of all the fame and success he has achieved in South Africa, and we can almost hear the hint of shock and subtle pride in his voice as he speaks about it. When Sugar and Craig finally get in contact with Rodriguez and schedule an interview, we see how soft-spoken, elegant, and gentle he really is, as he talks about how after the failure of both his albums, he gave up a singing career and pursued the life of a hardworking laborer, scheduling many demolition, renovation, and restoration projects to keep the few amount of lights on and extra money in his pocket.

    Frequently throughout Searching for Sugar Man, we hear almost every, if not all, of the tracks off his debut album Cold Fact, and see how beautifully they fit the landscape of either Detroit or the South African area. Yet these frequent song pieces and shots of surrounding atmosphere never come off as one thing and that is scenic. The film is always alert, alive, and completely in-tune with its premise and overall goal, and at eighty-five minutes, it zips along at a pace that feels just right.

    When Rodriguez finally plays a concert in South Africa in 1998, with an upwards of 20,000 people in the audience screaming, cheering, and even crying, we get a glimpse at a different kind of American Dream. Yet it's sad when we're reminded by one of the interviewees that most of us die before achieving Rodriguez's success. Many of us go truly unsung in our talents and are never appreciated or even recognized for them, which is an unbelievably depressing fact. Even today, Rodriguez possesses the fame, but not the glamor that should come with it. It must be remembered that most of Rodriguez's music was pirated or illegally purchased, and wasn't picked up by a record company and officially distributed until recently. It's no doubt that Rodriguez made some money off of his two albums, and his concerts, but not as much as he should have. Yet when we're told at the end that he gave much of his money away to his friends and family, we feel he couldn't care less. He just wanted to be recognized and he was lucky enough to get it.
    Expand
  6. Lyn
    May 26, 2013
    9
    Uniquely enjoyable in the way it stirs incredulity, outrage, discovery and admiration. Rodriguez's message is so heartfelt and his voice so haunting I would say it's sort of a blend of Dylan and James Taylor that you can't believe you never heard of him before this movie came out. (Even if, like me, you've spent a lot of time in & around Detroit, where's he's from.) Very grateful to have experienced this movie. Expand
  7. Jul 29, 2012
    7
    A KVIFF viewing of this demystifying documentary of a miracle would never find a copycat in the digital-era, Rodriguez

See all 16 User Reviews