Search for Rodriguez becomes film

2012-01-23 12:05
Anna-Retha Bouwer
Cape Town – A documentary that follows a group of South Africans' search for near-forgotten rocker Rodriguez is currently showing at the Sundance film festival in Utah.

The film, titled Search for Sugar Man,  is one of two doccies that have South African musical connections. The other documentary Paul Simon: Under African Skies deals with Simon's breakthrough album Graceland and follows Simon on his journey to South Africa to record the album with Ladysmith Black Mambazo amongst other artists.

Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul is the creative force behind the Rodriguez film. He is known for his short documentary films about artists such as Björk, Sting, Elton John and Madonna.

Rodriguez never achieved fame in America, but evolved into a cultural phenomenon in South Africa in the 1970's and 80's, especially amongst young conscripts.

South Africans who were trapped in a political reality of widespread opression during this time related to Rodriguez's rebellion against "the Man" - a figure which represents a restrictive establishment.

There is even a website, where South Africans share their memories and thoughts about his music.

Rodriguez disappeared from the scene after recording his two studio albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971) and it was widely believed that he had died.

Rodriguez was eventually tracked down by a group of South Africans. After his short-lived singing career he worked in construction and was very surprised to learn that he was considered a cult icon in South Africa.

He toured South Africa in 1998, 2001 and 2009.

Unbelievable story

In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune Bendjelloul said that he came across the Rodriguez story when he visited Cape Town as part of a trip around the world.

"I knew I'd never heard a better story in my life. I had the feeling that if a story like this had been conceived by a screenwriter it wouldn’t have worked particularly well; it would had felt too unbelievable, a bit too much. But this was true. That was five years ago, and I've been working on this film ever since."

Bendjelloul also mentions that he was immediately intrigued by the quest-factor present in the Rodriguez story.

"That was one of the first things that attracted me to the story — those two South African fans who wanted to find the truth. The riddle of Rodriguez had been intriguing them for years, and one day they set off on a quest to get to the bottom of the story. They needed to transform themselves into full-fledged detectives to try to unravel the mysteries, using the lyrics as a kind of cryptic puzzle to decipher what those poetic lines really meant."

It is uncertain whether the documentary will show in South Africa.


  • cheryl.kristiansen - 2012-01-23 13:47

    Man was I happy to hear about this doccie. Would be a bit ironic if it never gets shown here though!! His music was HUGE when i was a teenager in the 70's and all my friends had his album. In fact, i still have "cold fact"

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