There were a number of urban legends about what happened to Rodriguez. Some said he shot himself, others that he set himself on fire in protest. Everyone agreed the suicide occurred on stage in front of an audience. If the trailer and tagline for the film hadn’t already let you know that Rodriguez was still with us, the wildly divergent stories of his death would clue you in.
According to the film, in the 1990s a South African man decided to get serious about tracking down what happened to Rodriguez. He says he examined song lyrics looking for clues to locations he might have lived at. He contacted the companies that distributed the music, both in
South Africa and in the He did find that those companies were obviously pocketing the money and not sharing any royalties with the musician, but that storyline in the film is not pursued. U.S.
He finally finds out that Rodriguez is very much alive and living in
. We see interviews with the musician, which we are led to believe were from the 90s, but are obviously done in the present time (i.e. technology, Rodriguez’s age), with the interviewer and Rodriguez apparently trying to re-create their first meeting. Detroit
Rodriguez was completely surprised to find that his music sold better in
than pretty much any other musician. “The South African Elvis” was tossed out more than once. He is convinced to visit the country to experience it for himself. The filmmakers become heroes by bringing this musical icon back to their country. South Africa
There’s just one problem with all of this: Rodriguez was never lost. Not only was he big in
South Africa, but loved him as well. Rather than disappearing in the early 70s like this film would have you believe, he toured Australia several time in the late 70s and early 80s, even releasing a live Greatest Hits album from these tours in 1981. (It was titled “Alive” in reference to legends of his suicide.) The film makes mention only of the first two albums he made in the early 70s. At that time of these tours the only performer who sold more tickets than him in Australia was Rod Stewart. Australia
Another place where liberties are taken with the story is that the South Africans didn’t actually ever track him down. Rodriguez’s daughter happened across their fansite for her father and contacted them, letting them know her father was alive and where he was living. She mentions this in passing during the film, so it’s not like the filmmakers are trying to completely re-write what happened.
Ultimately, Searching for Sugar Man is just as much about
and the men who were searching for him, as it is about the man himself. The best part is that because of this film Rodriguez is now starting to get fans in the South Africa U.S. and Europe. His album sales have taken off in both places. It’s a nice story. I can’t imagine someone being bored by it, let alone hating it. If it sounds interesting to you, then I recommend you give it a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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DVD Blu-ray Instant Video