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Searching for Sugar Man Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 21 2013 - 04:58 PM

If you have never heard of the singer Rodriguez, you are not alone. In the late sixties he was discovered singing in various venues in and around Detroit, Michigan and was signed to a recording contract by two prominent producers. In 1970 he recorded a critically acclaimed record album called "Cold Fact," but for reasons which can never be explained the album failed to find an audience. A follow-up album released in 1971, "Coming From Reality," met with a similar lack of success and Rodriguez walked away from the music business at the age of 29. The story of Rodriguez and how he was improbably lifted from obscurity to international fame is the subject of Searching for Sugar Man.





Searching for Sugar Man
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2012
Rated: PG-13
Program Length: 87 minutes                  Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

The Program

To many of us South Africans, he was the soundtrack to our lives.

If you have never heard of the singer Rodriguez, you are not alone. In the late sixties he was discovered singing in various venues in and around Detroit, Michigan and was signed to a recording contract by two prominent producers. In 1970 he recorded a critically acclaimed record album called "Cold Fact," but for reasons which can never be explained the album failed to find an audience. A follow-up album released in 1971, "Coming From Reality," met with a similar lack of success and Rodriguez walked away from the music business at the age of 29. The story of Rodriguez and how he was improbably lifted from obscurity to international fame is the subject of Searching for Sugar Man.

Apparently, at some point in the mid-seventies an American tourist arrived in Cape Town, South Africa with a rare copy of "Cold Fact." South Africa was then ruled by an extremely repressive government which was striving mightily to retain its onerous policy of racial segregation, apartheid. A growing anti-apartheid movement, led largely by the youth of South Africa, was taking root in the country. Somehow those protestors began to hear "Cold Fact," which was unavailable commercially. It seems that the single record album which was brought into the country was copied onto one cassette tape after another. Rodriguez' socially-conscious lyrics and catchy melodies resonated with South Africans and he became nothing less than a cultural phenomenon - all without his knowledge.

When the record companies which owned the rights to Rodriguez' albums became aware of his growing popularity in South Africa, they began to release "legitimate" copies to stores in the country. I put the word "legitimate" in quotation marks because Rodriguez never saw a penny from the estimated 500,000 copies of "Cold Fact" which were sold there. In fact, his fans in South Africa had begun to believe stories that Rodriguez, in a fit of despair, had committed suicide while giving a concert in the United States. Where these stories began remains unclear, but they seemed to provide a logical explanation for why a third album never surfaced.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties, and two South African fans of Rodriguez, one of whom is a writer, independently began to wonder what had really happened to him. They eventually found each other and began to follow up on every slim lead they were able to develop. Finally, one day in 1997 they tracked down Mike Theodore, the co-producer of "Cold Fact." During a lengthy conversation about Rodriguez, a question came up about how the singer had actually died. Theodore was astonished to hear the question because he was aware of the fact that Rodriguez was "alive and kicking" in Detroit.

The first half of Searching for Sugar Man plays out like a mystery which initially seems unlikely to find a resolution. As popular as Rodriguez' albums were in South Africa, the liner notes contained no personal information about him. No one in South Africa knew how old he was, where he was from, or what had actually become of him. Once those obstacles were overcome, they came to learn that Rodriguez is a very remarkable, almost Zen-like man. What happened next takes up the last half of the film, and it is one of the most moving pieces of documentary filmmaking which I have ever seen.

First-time director Malik Bendjelloul also wrote the narration and edited the film. I found it to be riveting throughout. Searching for Sugar Man won two awards at last year's Sundance Film Festival and Roger Ebert recently put it on his list of best documentaries for 2012. I for one cannot imagine anyone watching this film and not immediately rushing out to buy the Rodriguez CDs - that is how good Searching for Sugar Man is. And yes, Rodriguez is now receiving royalties for his music, although he continues to live simply and gives most of his money away.

The Video

The 1.78:1 1080p image is nothing less than wonderful, another outstanding Blu-ray transfer from Sony. However, it should be noted that a certain amount of archival footage (including home movies) is shown at 1.33:1 and the quality is watchable but understandably variable. Some of what appears to be archival footage in Detroit actually consists of re-created scenes which were shot with an iPhone Super 8 application (there is no existing archival footage of Rodriguez performing in the seventies). Most of the new footage was shot on location in South Africa and Detroit, and the cinematography by Camilla Skagerström is strikingly beautiful. The high definition images are highly detailed, with vivid colors, deep blacks and excellent shadow detail. All in all this is an excellent presentation of an outstanding documentary.   
The Audio

The lossless DTS-HD MA is exceptional, giving Rodriguez' songs the wide and exceptionally pleasing soundstage which they deserve. The narration is clear and understandable, and the same can be said for the words of the interview subjects.

The Supplements

There are several entertaining and informative extras on this Blu-ray release.

There is a fascinating commentary track recorded by both Rodriguez and director Malik Bendjelloul.

"Making Sugar Man" is a detailed, 31-minute "making of" featurette which covers every aspect of the film's production. At one point director Bendjelloul ran out of money and was ready the scrap the project, which took four years to complete.

"An Evening with Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez" is footage of the director and Rodriguez taking questions from the audience at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Rodriguez also sings one of his songs for the audience.

Sony also has included the film's theatrical trailer and previews for Robot & Frank; Neil Young Journeys; Rust and Bone; Celeste & Jesse Forever; and Smashed.

The Packaging

The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.

The Final Analysis

Searching for Sugar Man is an intriguing, moving, and ultimately exhilarating documentary which also includes some of the finest songs which you have never heard before. If the name Rodriguez meant nothing to you before reading this review, after you see Searching for Sugar Man you will never forget him.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: January 22, 2013


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted January 22 2013 - 06:35 AM

I saw some news story about this film a while back (60 minutes?) and was very intrigued. Thanks for reminding me to pick this up! :tu: With all the Justin Biebers and One Directions in the world today it's refreshing...and heartbreaking...to see someone with true musical talent who lived such a hard life and even now continues to give his money away in order to live simply, instead of crashing his Ferrari around Los Angeles...

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#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 22 2013 - 07:21 AM

Originally Posted by Carlo Medina 

I saw some news story about this film a while back (60 minutes?) and was very intrigued. Thanks for reminding me to pick this up! Posted Image

With all the Justin Biebers and One Directions in the world today it's refreshing...and heartbreaking...to see someone with true musical talent who lived such a hard life and even now continues to give his money away in order to live simply, instead of crashing his Ferrari around Los Angeles...


Yes, he was profiled on 60 Minutes last year. Until then I had never heard of him.


Rich Gallagher

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 24 2013 - 02:12 PM

Searching For Sugar Man just won the Oscar for Best Documentary, so I'm giving it a bump.


Rich Gallagher

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted March 23 2013 - 09:29 AM

Just watched it. I haven't seen the other nominees for Best Doc so I can't say if it was the best this year, but it is an excellent documentary with a compelling story for both the subject of the film (Rodriguez) as well as the filmmaker himself.
 

It manages to pull of the trick of revealing the man and his talent, while still preserving a bit of mystery, which apparently is how Rodriguez is in real life. He has never wanted fame and wealth. He continues to live very humbly - and by that I don't mean a millionaire living like a six-figure salaried guy, but really humbly, maybe not poverty line level but just above it.

 

All he wanted to do was reach people with his music, and now, forty years later, here's hoping he does. I know he's reached me, both of his albums are now on order from Amazon. And I hope for good things for the filmmaker as well, who basically did this as a labor of love project for four years and depleted his savings in the process. 


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