Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man || A Sony Pictures Classics Release.

so glad I went with my instincts and decided to watch this film even though I had never heard of this musician. A sweet film about giving a talented but bypassed singer from the 70s his long-overdue recognition. Does it come too late? Is it enough? What is fame and recognition worth anyway? These are just some of the questions the film leaves you with. What a shame this man was dropped by his record label (probably because he wasn’t a white swaggering Mike Jagger-type), what a shame he didn’t get to develop his career, what a shame he had no idea he was so big overseas, what a shame he got cheated by his producer (the film doesn’t say it out loud but the man’s vehement, out-of-place protestations make it quite clear who’s the baddie as far as the director is concerned), what a shame he spent the rest of his life not in music but roughing it out as as construction worker. Yet, as he said, his dream was to make a record, and he did. Is that just modesty from this soft-spoken man from whom the director and journalists, and even his family, can hardly tease out a reaction? Would fame and money have changed the man and the outcome of his life? As his daughter said, he seems to lead two lives: one, the Dylan-ish singer whose songs were taken up as an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and another, the bricklaying construction worker in Detroit whose ‘past life’ is totally unknown to his colleagues. But perhaps running through all this is the soul of a man whose purity has remained untouched. As his boss voiced with admiration, his is the soul of a poet who finds beauty in the banal, who ennobles the filthy, the downtrodden. Here is a man who would “do the dirty jobs that no-one wants to do”, who would come to work dressed in a tux, who would work harder and longer than he needed to. From the mouth of a man whom, you suspect, hardly deals with ‘art’ and ‘poetry’ in his quotidian, this is insight indeed into the man and real praise. It’s interesting to see too the immigration experience as played out in his life and his daughters’. The Rodriguez to America came as poor Mexican immigrants, eking out a living in the construction industry and living in a shantytown. He belongs to the second, ‘bridge’ generation, and perhaps his music was a dream he dared to dream outside of the ghetto before it was snuffed out, but his daughters seem to have made the transition to middle-class America. And perhaps the dichotomy between his musician life and his blue-collar existence is not as wide as it seems. He ran for mayor in his town, never mind if he lost; the high ideals and militancy is his songs were not empty words. He also imparted these ideals to his daughters. It should not be overlooked too that a measure of the man can be found in his daughters. By all appearances, they seem to be well-adjusted, sensitive, good people, a close-knit family and caring of their papa. The youngest seemed often on the brink of tears when evoking her father. Finally, the singer remains an enigma. What does he make of his newfound fame? Did he have any regrets? Why does he continue living his hard life in Detroit? It’s almost a joke that everyone else’s lives seemed to have changed—for the better— but his. We don’t come any closer to finding out at the end of the film.

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