{2jtab: Movie Review}

Searching for Sugar Man - Blu-ray Review


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5 stars

Searching for Sugar Man clocks in a swift 85 minutes but the true story it tells – about an unknown folk-rock artist from Detroit, Michigan who doesn’t even know he’s bigger than Elvis in South Africa – is one you will never forget.  Rodriguez is his name.  During the early 1970’s he cut two albums – well-received by critics, mind you – but the buying public in America virtually ignored him.  And, in Detroit, he slipped into obscurity working construction.  It is South Africa – fighting censorship and apartheid – that will resurrect him.

First time filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul cuts his teeth on this Oscar-nominated documentary as he traces the historic search by a couple of South African music enthusiasts who, with no information on the artist at all, managed to discover more than they ever believed or thought possible about the American music icon they only knew as Rodriguez.  Believing that he set himself on fire during his final performance or shot himself in the head on stage, the interviews with the South Africans trace the importance of Rodriguez – who is speculated to have arrived in their land through a bootleg copy of his first LP – and juxtaposes that impression with his failures in America as Rodriguez stops recording his third LP and is released from his recording contract three weeks before Christmas in 1973.

And then - its maybe the worst kept secret of the film - they discover, after a phone interview with one of his producers back in Michigan - that their music hero is still alive.  Alive?  Yes and, surprisingly enough, able to perform a series of concerts for South Africa where he is indeed not forgotten and more loved than The Rolling Stones.

The heartwarming narrative at the center of Searching for Sugar Man will have you doubting its facts.  We normally don’t have such positive and uplifting stories in rock history.  But the story of Rodriquez Sixto is an unusual one and, if you are a fan of music, an important one to watch and hear unfold.  The documentary is a rarity indeed.  It’s not a story of drugs or alcohol.  There’s no sex.  Just a love for one man’s music and lyrics; a man America didn’t embrace and should have.

You have a creative man who seems unfazed at being a South African celebrity after being virtually unknown for most of his life at its center.  He’s humble and clearly a fatality of poor accounting practices by his former label and yet he never plays the victim.  Most of what he earns is given to friends and family.  His lyrics are sharp and the praise South Africans and those who know about him in the States pour upon him well-deserved.  On-screen, he’s obviously uncomfortable and the film celebrates his story through actual film and, when the pictures aren’t available, through tasteful animation.

Searching for Sugar Man is the anti-establishment’s dream come true.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Searching for Sugar Man - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and some drug references.
Runtime: 85 mins.
: Malik Bendjelloul
Writer: Malik Bendjelloul
Cast: Steve Sugerman; Dennis Coffey; Mike Theodore; Dan DiMaggio
Genre: Documentary
Searching for Sugar Man
Memorable Movie Quote: "What he's demonstrated, very clearly, is that you have a choice. He took all that torment, all that agony, all that confusion and pain, and he transformed it into something beautiful. He's like the silkworm, you know?"
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site:
Release Date: July 27, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 22, 2013

Synopsis: In the late '60s, a musician was discovered in a Detroit bar by two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists 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, it became a phenomenon. Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez. This is a film about hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Searching for Sugar Man - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

5 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
5 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 22, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English, English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Like most Sony Blu-rays, the 1080p transfer looks terrific. Though visually varied (as I stated it includes some original animation) and including home video footage, Searching for Sugar Man masters tasteful newly-shot tracking footage, which boasts excellent sharpness and clarity.  Black levels are consistently pure and retain good edges throughout.  Colors, while varied, are strong.  Even archive footage, more photographs than video, holds up. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix distributes the film's near-constant stream of Rodriguez songs with good aplomb.



  • Director Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez himself supply the film’s commentary.  While Bendjelloul does most of the talking, Rodriquez does carry his fair share of the weight and acknowledges an series of Australian tours in the 1980’s that the film neglects to mention for dramatization’s sake.  It’s a solid listen for fans of the film.

Special Features:

The HD supplemental material is short but sweet.  First up is a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film hosted by its director.  Bendjelloul explains how the film came to be made and highlights Rodriguez's involvement with behind the curtain glimpses.  Up next is a short performance and Q and A session from the film’s 2012 Tribeca Film Festival premiere.  A trailer rounds out the material.

  • Making Sugar Man (30 min)
  • An Evening with Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez (11 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}