Sugar Man would have you believe that Rodriguez was a rock icon from the ‘70s who either just disappeared or perhaps killed himself on stage. One thing is clear as the film progresses: the viewer is in the possession of a film that flows with beautiful images, many of which have nothing to do with anything.
The search for Rodriguez, a wonderful songwriter whose songs rival the best of his generation, takes us to South Africa where Rod had his biggest following. The filmmakers know their subject, even referencing another less obscure singer-songwriter Shawn Phillips who also lives in South Africa. The images and songs pour forth with such conviction that viewers schooled in rock history will scratch their heads trying to remember Rodriguez.
The thing is Rodriguez is a figment of our collective imagination. The whole film is really a mockumentary but the story compels us to believe. Searching For Sugar Man unfolds in a realistic way unlike an arch movie like This Is Spinal Tap. And Sugar Man has an angle that stays with its audience unlike the letdown mockumentary Catfish.
SFSM acts as a litmus test of your familiarity of music. If you were born after the ‘70s you probably don’t know who Shawn Phillips or Emitt Rhodes are much less that Rodriguez never existed. The movie has one shot of a press photo of Rodriguez that’s so well done you want to accept this film as fact. Even if Rodriguez never existed he damn well should have. Searching For Sugar Man unwinds exclusively at the Sundance Cinemas Houston.
— Michael Bergeron