Movie Review: Searching for Sugar Man

SEARCHING FOR SUGARMANSearching for Sugar Man, 2012, a Swedish-British documentary directed and written by Malik Bendjelloul and about musician Sixto Rodriguez.

Perhaps you don’t know why I would be reviewing this movie for a writing and publishing blog. Well then, just hold on tight and I will tell you.

After I tell you this. It seems like the Flahertys go through movie viewing on steeply pitched waves. Either we are in a monstrous trough of terrible movies (which, despite our best efforts, can last for weeks if not months) or we are riding high on the crest of a great movie-tsunami. Right now, we are at a high point, and have been for the last couple months, which is why you are getting so many reviews. Approximately fifty per cent of what we have viewed in June-August I have wanted to share with the world. However, I have only chosen a half-dozen or so. My criteria is that they have to build into your life as a fellow writer, reader, publisher, or someone interested in any of those things (or in Devon, the author). Some of the movies I have chosen were because they were about writers. At least one of them was a book-to-movie adaptation.

Searching for Sugar Man I am reviewing because it is about the artist’s life, the artistic path, the fact and fancy of being an art peddler. The Sugar Man of the title is a song writer and a guitarist-singer-performer, but I found that not only did I just love this movie, but that it spoke to some of the subjects I love to address on this blog. And not always in the most flattering way. But graceful. Oh so graceful.

Really, it’s just an awesome documentary. The kind of documentary that appeals even to those who don’t normally enjoy documentaries. Now, I don’t want to give too much away because part of the value of this movie is in the plot twists and turns and in the way the director chose to reveal the story. I recommend that you don’t even look it up before renting. But it’s more than that. The main character, a musician named Rodriguez, is just a jaw-droppingly fascinating person. And the cinematography and music, very beautiful, very poignant. I don’t think I am alone when I say that some of the scenes of Sugar Man were record-setting wonderful. The one with Rodriguez walking in silhouette in a snow-covered inner city Detroit and the smoke stacks reflect the sky?!? Unbelievable.

As for you poor souls who are pursing a career in the fickle arts, you can take even more away from this movie than the curious pleasure-seekers. Because, among other things (and again, I don’t want to give anything away), we learn through this bizarre and twisted story that the way of artists never did run smooth. For one, it is rather easy for art distribution to be rife with corruption. Just think how easy it is to fleece an author (or singer) by fudging their sales numbers. It could really happen to any of us (but hopefully not on the scale of Rodriguez) and has, in the past (and is also bound to in the future). Two, you can be the most talented person in the world, you can even have Big Names on your side, and still be a flop. (Conversely, you can be pretty darn mediocre and find a home amongst the money- and fame-touched.) Three… well, dang it, I really can’t tell you that without ruining the whole experience for you.

Oh, and one more thing for you to learn while watching this movie (not so much from the story but from the directing): let the story speak for itself. When, as a writer, you are blessed with one heck of a plot and really interesting characters, you don’t have to do a song and dance to write it. Sugar Man is a really calm movie, one that could easily be “slow” if the story were less compelling… but it’s not! And the viewer is always on the edge of his seat, but not because of bells and whistles. So find a great story and tell it masterfully, not with distracting acrobatics.

Just watch the movie. All the critics love it. It won like a million awards. And its reviews everywhere are top notch. You’ll walk away with something to say, and something to think about.

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