Review of the Oscar winning documentary about Sixto Rodriguez’s life.
I picked up a copy of this movie because I had a sense from looking at the cover that this was worth watching, although I had never heard about it before, not even that it had won an Oscar this year for best documentary feature. To my delight, I found myself immersed in an incredible authentic story by film maker Malik Bendjelloul; the music and the lyrics haunted me for days until I gave in and bought a CD!
Sixto Rodriguez is a Mexican-American folksinger who recorded two albums in the early seventies which, although well received, never sold; he faded into oblivion in spite of a successful tour to Australia at the end of the seventies and there were persistent rumours that he had committed suicide. However, unknown to him, he became a music legend in South Africa – then still under Apartheid. Several determined South African fans set out in the 1990’s to find out about his fate and succeeded in finding him in 1998 – this in turn led to a surprise revival of his musical career.
This documentary traces his past, the search for him and includes statements by his friends and fans. It depicts an extremely talented Rodriguez and it seems inconceivable that his career folded at that time. Yet most importantly it shows him to have a natural humbleness that touches the heart. Listening to him speak simply about his life I was so reminded about the Zen story of a monk who is being accused of having fathered a baby. The monk (although wrongly accused) calmly says, “Is this so?” and takes care of the baby. But soon the young mother of the baby admits that she had lied and her father asks forgiveness from the monk and confirms the baby is not the monk’s, who then calmly hands back the baby and says, “Is this so?”
In Rodriguez’ case, he accepted that his musical career wasn’t happening, worked as a construction workers for years, married, and still lives in the same house in Detroit; he does not have a car, nor TV, nor a computer. When he was rediscovered, he accepted it in a beautiful way and began sharing his music again. He clearly transformed an event that many would have seen as a letdown into living a fulfilling and positive life. Neither failure nor success made him someone different than he truly is.
He was reluctant to appear in the documentary and had to be persuaded to do so. To see him performing live in South Africa, where he received a hero’s welcome, is a marvelous part of the documentary. Now in his early seventies, he has a freshness and joie de vivre that is remarkable.
His voice is unique and stands strong among the other greats of the era, such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and the then still rough Rod Stewart. His lyrics are deep and insightful and are as compelling today as they were more than 40 years ago; although he is now touring throughout the USA (and will perform in Europe from mid-May to August), he is also working on a third album that I certainly look forward to listening to!
A highly enjoyable and positive movie about an authentic spirited man and his remarkable music.
Bhagawati, Osho News
Malik Bendjelloul is a Swedish filmmaker born in 1977 in Ystad, Sweden. A former child actor on TV, he studied Journalism and Media Production, and later produced several documentaries for Swedish TV. In 2006 he quit his post a reporter on the show ‘Kobra’ to travel the world; it was during his travels that he first came in contact with the story for ‘Searching for Sugarman’ which took four years to produce. Besides winning the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it won more than 30 other international awards.