When I think of documentaries, I think of disassociated sequences of accelerated black and white recordings; narrated by sundry voices, recounting hard facts that are neither too interesting nor particularly relevant. That, or endless scenes of tiny prairie animals scurrying about in the bright sunshine, seemingly with no purpose but to scurry about in the bright sunshine.
Obviously, my idea of documentaries is somewhat dated. And yet, and yet. What I sorely miss in documentaries are the elements of a story: the setting of the scene, the introduction of a mystery or problem, the inevitable climax, and the final catharsis. In that regard, even the best documentaries I’ve seen retain their basic quality: they document facts, and don’t spin tales. And that’s all very well, of course.
If you want the best of both worlds, Searching for Sugar Man is the movie you should see. Even though it’s a documentary, its main appeal – in my opinion – is that it tells an extraordinary story, and tells it masterfully. No other documentary has ever had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, gasping, sighing, tearing up, laughing, and clapping my hands and snapping my fingers. No wonder this one won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of the year 2012!
If you don’t know anything about the movie, here’s a little teaser for you. (No spoilers, I promise.) The ‘Sugar Man’ is Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit bard who, in the early 1970s, happened to release two folk/rock albums. Although his work received critical praise and was expected to do well, the albums were a complete flop in the United States. Somehow, however, a record made its way into then Apartheid South Africa. In this country, cut-off from the rest of the world due to the political regime, Sixto Rodriguez’s music became the voice of the resistance movement, and brought him fame to match that of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But nobody knew anything about Sixto Rodriguez, as the only clues about his life were his picture on the original record and legends surrounding his mysterious life and death. And so a search began, led by a couple of devoted Sixto Rodriguez fans…
And let me just say that the music in this movie is award-worthy on its own.