'Searching For Sugar Man' - On BBC4 Tonight, Following Director Malik Bendjelloul's Suicide At 36
It is with a heavy heart that I'll be sitting down tonight to watch 'Searching For Sugar Man', the Oscar-winning documentary that captured the collective imagination when it was first screened two years ago.
That was when I first saw this film - a stunning combination of music, memories and, at its centre, a mystery ultimately resolved in scenes that were almost spiritual - at the Sheffield Documentary Festival, where both the film's star Rodriguez and its director Malik Bendjelloul were given a standing ovation when they appeared at the closing credits.
I had the pleasure - all too poignant now - of meeting Malik and Rodriguez two years ago
Malik was only 34 then, and still only 36 when he took his own life earlier this month, much to the shock and sadness of his many fans and friends. When I met him in Sheffield, he was vibrant with enthusiasm, and the satisfaction that must have come from knowing he had created a memorable gem with this, his very first feature film.
Rodriguez, in turn, was quiet, completely unassuming and ready to give his young Swedish director all the credit whenever he got the opportunity. It was obviously one of those golden pairings, and the legacy is an unforgettable film, that gets another airing tonight on BBC4.
So what't it all about? Well, Rodriguez - one of the most talented singer-songwriters of his generation, was destined for chart-topping success and the kind of idolatry enjoyed by Bob Dylan and James Taylor, except he disappeared...
Rodriguez - the subject of myth and much speculation
In the film, two South Africans go in search of an artist famous in their homeland, but whom nobody else seems to know much about. What starts out as a mystery becomes a social history, and a personal story of dignity, creativity and recognition.
"If I had to name ten artists that I've ever been involved with, Rodriguez would be in the top five," says Quincy Jones. And there was never any doubting the talent and originality of the singer Rodriguez who, from a building site in his native Detroit, crafted the kind of tunes to make a generation's communal heart swing.
Rodriguez was considered a special talent by all those who heard him sing
Except it didn't happen. For whatever reason, Rodriguez didn't catch the same wave enjoyed by his peers Dylan, Taylor, Denver - and disappeared into a mist of different stories and speculation... that he set fire to himself on stage, that he did away with himself.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in South Africa, revolution was stirring. Anti-apartheid protests were spreading, and activists needed a soundtrack. Who should they pick, but Rodriguez, whose albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality had somehow ended up in most people's collections, and provided just the kind of plaintive defiance their outrage called for... Rodriguez became the voice of a generation, and he didn't even know it.
What happened next? You'll have to watch this stunning documentary to find out - a story whose narrative power, mystery and over-riding sense of miracle provided what director Malik called "an absolute gift, but also a great responsibility, because the story was sooo good, I had to do it justice".
And Rodriguez himself? Well, I wouldn't have spoiled it for you, except, two years later, I guess the truth is well and truly out there. He's alive and well, and incredibly sanguine about his hard, labourer's life still in Detroit, when he should have been enjoying superstar royalties.
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Rodriguez remains sanguine about the opportunities he's missed out on in the past
"You can't think like that," he told me in Sheffield.
"It's not a competition - there's enough for everyone."
In this Twitter and hype-obsessed age, it's hard to believe that there is still someone who is happy with his lot, not clamouring after fame and fortune, but Rodriguez remains the real deal and, while his recognition comes very late, it is now authentic and enduring.
'Searching For Sugar Man' is on BBC4 tonight at 9pm. Watch the trailer below...
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.