Movie Review – In search of Cold Fact

2012-08-31 11:11

Film: Searching for Sugar Man (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
Featuring: Stephen Segerman, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Clarence Avant and Dennis Coffey
Rating: 8/10

You couldn’t make this story up.

 A guy singing in dingy bars is given a record deal – feted as another Bob Dylan, it all looks good for him.

Then nothing, he flops – the music industry guys don’t know why and he falls into obscurity.

Then a chance musical encounter on the other side of the world in a police state and the singer’s album hits a rebellious note.

In that country he becomes a cult star.

Twenty years later two music nerds go looking for their hero – Rodriguez.

Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom are those guys.

What they discovered is, for a guy whose first album was called Cold Fact, there were in fact few cold facts about him.

They combed through the songs’ lyrics, they searched the non-existent liner notes and eventually Bartholomew Strydom did the journalist thing – he followed the money.

As the pair gathered the puzzle pieces to solve one mystery – another became apparent.

It really is a documentary that should be used as a master class in how documentaries should be made.

Firstly, because it builds tension like a thriller and, like a thriller, the twist in the tale is stranger than fiction.

Also, director Malik Bendjelloul steers well clear of the advocacy, drum-banging documentary-making brought into focus by larger-than-life Michael Moore.

When he asks his subjects questions he does it in a controlled, off-camera way.

When the spectre of corruption and theft raises its ugly head, he resists the path of self-righteousness.

Instead, he sticks to his script.

He leaves the question of who exactly benefited from Rodriguez’s unclaimed fame in South Africa, staying with the story he set out to tell – that of a lost musician who didn’t know he was missing or indeed what he was missing out on.

Even if you’ve never bopped along to I Wonder, you will be hard-pressed not to be drawn into this improbable story of a man who struck a chord that reverberated around the globe, but was only heard in one small place at the bottom of Africa.

» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala

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