Searching For Sugar Man. Documentary

Sólo dos discos publicados a principios de los setenta (Cold Fact y Coming from reality) que no hicieron el menor ruido y una leyenda oscura que contaba que había muerto mientras tocaba sobre un escenario. Sixto Rodríguez, tímido cantautor callejero de Detroit, atrajo la atención de varios productores que veían en él un prometedor trovador de su época. Pero nadie sabe dónde estuvo el error, qué es lo que falló para que sus proféticas canciones no sonasen en ningún lado. Su carrera se truncó de raíz a ritmo de un triste presagio en forma de verso (“Cause I lost my job, two weeks before Christmas”) y su espigada figura se esfumó.

Searching-For-Sugarman-poster1

Sin saberse cómo, quizás por un viaje de algún turista americano a Sudáfrica con el vinilo bajo el brazo, Rodríguez alcanzó en el país africano una fama inusitada y se convirtió en icono musical de la oposición al apartheid y emblema del movimiento juvenil, al nivel de los Rolling y Dylan en los sesenta. Todos los elementos que convierten a un músico en estrella del rock se daban: ventas millonarias, discos de oro, himnos generacionales y canciones prohibidas por el gobierno sudafricano. Todo esto sin que el propio Sixto Rodríguez lo supiese. ¿Dónde estaba Sixto? ¿Qué fue del músico tras aquellos dos discos? ¿Dónde acabó sus días? A partir de estas preguntas, y con una historia detrás ciertamente alucinante, el realizador sueco Malik Bendjelloul inicia una investigación detectivesca no sólo para dar con el huidizo músico, también para saber dónde pudo acabar el dinero de las millonarias ventas en Sudáfrica y cómo pudo gestarse la leyenda del Sugar Man.

A través de Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, dueño de una tienda de discos en Ciudad del Cabo, y el periodista Brian Currin, la película mantiene en vilo al espectador iniciando un recorrido a través de las pocas pistas que se tienen de Rodríguez, algunos datos peregrinos en sus vinilos y las sugerencias que se esconden dentro de sus enigmáticas letras. Tomando como vehículo narrativo esas elocuentes canciones (largas prosas poéticas que creaban paisajes visuales de la realidad del músico), el documental equilibra el enorme éxito en Sudáfrica con el anonimato y silencio en Estados Unidos, retratando una nocturna y nebulosa Detroit que cimenta ese aura de misterio en torno a Rodríguez.

Crítica de Searching for Sugar Man

Con una acertada utilización de animaciones en momentos puntuales y del excepcional material de archivo (contadas fotografías e imágenes de vídeo aficionado en las actuaciones en Sudáfrica) Searching for Sugar Man hace justicia con el verdadero concepto de working class hero musical: un músico de extrarradio de la ciudad obrera de Detroit que (atención, posible spoiler), ajeno al éxito de sus canciones, ha seguido toda su vida trabajando en la construcción y restauración de edificios. El efecto reparador del documental al sacar a la luz la silente vida de Rodríguez y sus poderosas canciones ya justifican la importancia de esta película, brindándole un público mayor a este héroe anónimo alejado de la iconoclasta representación de mitos de la industria musical americana. La fama deSearching for Sugar Man, jalonada con el Premio Beefeater In-Edit Internacional y la nominación al Oscar al mejor documental, parece que le ha ofrecido a Sixto Rodríguez un nuevo lugar, un público que no encontró en los setenta. Sin ir más lejos, ya ha confirmado su presencia en Glastonbury, Coachella y Primavera Sound, el padre, hijo y espíritu santo de los macro-festivales. A Rodríguez se le encontró y se le pudo situar en el mapa pero, ¿y el dinero de aquellas ventas millonarias en Sudáfrica? Ni rastro. Como sugiere una de sus hijas, “a lo mejor otros sí se hicieron ricos”.

==================================================================================

There are several entrancing mysteries circulating in “Searching for Sugar Man,” a hugely appealing documentary about fans, faith and an enigmatic Age of Aquarius musician who burned bright and hopeful before disappearing. One mystery involves its title subject, a Detroit singer-songwriter known as Rodriguez who, after being discovered in a dive bar, cut a well-regarded record in 1969. The album, “Cold Fact,” earned good reviews and four Billboard stars, but it bombed in the United States, and Rodriguez faded from view. Where he went and why are just a few of the questions that a Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, sought in answering the riddle of Rodriguez.

Sony Pictures Classics

Rodriguez in “Searching for Sugar Man.”

Mr. Bendjelloul, fittingly, begins his worldwide search on screen in South Africa and with an irrepressible music fan named Stephen Segerman, nicknamed Sugar, after the Rodriguez song “Sugar Man.” It was Mr. Segerman who introduced Mr. Bendjelloul to the implausible story of how Rodriguez, after copies of “Cold Fact” hit South Africa in the early ’70s, became an anti-establishment inspiration there and something of a political cause. Rodriguez, with his soft guitar strumming and lyrics that hit hard, blunt notes (“I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree”), became a star. His curtain of dark hair, ubiquitous sunglasses and inscrutable smile, as well as the fact that no one in South Africa knew much about him, only burnished his appeal.

Rodriguez’s popularity in South Africa became Mr. Bendjelloul’s smart starting point in the documentary and the way he transformed a good story into an electric one. It’s a tale that had begun to surface years before Mr. Bendjelloul started shooting his documentary, partly because of efforts by Rodriguez admirers like Mr. Segerman. In his notes for a 1996 South African CD of Rodriguez’s album, “Coming From Reality,” Mr. Segerman asked if there were any “musicologist-detectives out there” who could help answer what had become of the musician. A journalist, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, read that line and, picking up the challenge like a gauntlet, was soon sifting the facts from decades of speculation, including the rumor that Rodriguez had died onstage after setting himself on fire.

The search for Rodriguez intensified with the introduction of a nifty little tool called the Internet and a Web site that Mr. Segerman and Alec McCrindle created in 1997, baptized the Great Rodriguez Hunt. What they eventually discovered is often delightful and at times so poignant that many of the most crucial details are best left for viewers to discover for themselves. It’s almost impossible to see a movie these days without knowing too many of its surprises, and “Searching for Sugar Man” is one of those that’s best seen with as little knowledge of its subject as possible. Mr. Bendjelloul knows that too. That’s why, after he introduces Mr. Segerman, Mr. Bendjelloul returns to the past to spin the story chronologically, beginning with Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore, who produced “Cold Fact.”

Using a well-balanced mix of talking-head interviews, archival imagery and some dreamy animated sequences, Mr. Bendjelloul builds a narrative that simultaneously moves in two seemingly opposite if complementary directions. Interview by interview, location by location, he tries to go into the mystery of a single man even as he heads out into a world that initially rejected Rodriguez and then embraced him. Each interview adds another piece to the puzzle. Mr. Coffey and Mr. Theodore describe what it was like the first time they saw Rodriguez, who was playing with his back to the audience; Mr. Segerman and others explain what this music meant if you were a young, white South African and grasping for hope in the somber, at times despairing songs of a Detroit musician.

Mr. Bendjelloul doesn’t dig deeply into why Rodriguez, a dark-skinned Mexican-American who sounds like (for starters) Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Nick Drake, was embraced so passionately by white South Africans under Apartheid. Rather he accepts the declarations of love and fan explanations that it was the right music for a country in lockdown. That scarcely seems like the whole story, especially for such a complex country, and while occasionally the movie teeters close to embracing bromides about the universal healing power of pop culture, there’s too much sincerity in “Searching for Sugar Man,” too much love and enduring human mystery for cynicism to take hold. In the end Mr. Bendjelloul went looking for a man and found something much greater.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s