Review: Searching For Sugarman

At the start of the 1970s two Motown producers in a riverside Detroit bar stumble upon what they believe is the next Bob Dylan, a man called Rodriguez who plays with his back to the audience.

Convinced they have a sure thing they get him into the studio, record an album called Cold Fact and then…nothing. Another producer records another album, equally sure he's on the verge of greatness and still nothing.

But as Rodriguez drifts back into the obscurity of the Detroit streets, over in South Africa his music is becoming a sensation. Not in the town-ships, but in the liberal middle-class suburbs where it is compulsory for every record collection to contain copies of Abbey Road, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Cold Fact.

In the isolated, ostracised apartheid state he is bigger than Elvis, and yet they know nothing about him other than lurid rumours about his death: an on-stage suicide involving self-immolation or a shotgun ending to a poorly received gig.

Searching For Sugarman is the kind of documentary that people might think they could safely skip in the cinema and wait a few months for the inevitable TV screening on a channel with a name ending in 4. But it is definitely worth seeing communally because in its own quiet way it really does a number on an audience; works them over in a way few films do.

It is mostly a collection of archive footage and interviews, but it tells its story more compellingly than most feature films do. It is an amazing story. It has an enigmatic leading man in Rodriguez, who retains his mystery throughout, and the story that emerges when some of his South African fans go seeking the truth about him is overwhelmingly touching, like a real-life Field Of Dreams.

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Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Starring: Stephen Segerman, Dennis Coffey, Sixto Rodriguez, Eva Rodriguez and Willem Moller

Length: 85 mins