Searching for Sugar Man (Blu-ray) (2012)

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Released 27-Feb-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Making Of-Making of Searching for Sugar Man
Music Video-Rodriguez Live
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2012
Running Time 86:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Malik Bendjelloul
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman
Dennis Coffey
Mike Theodore
Dan DiMaggio
Jerome Ferretti
Steve Rowland
Willem Möller
Craig Bartholomew Strydom
Ilse Assmann
Steve M. Harris
Robbie Mann
Clarence Avant
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Searching for Sugar Man was the winner of the Oscar For Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards. It is a marvellous documentary that will be enjoyed by anyone with a love of music and quirky investigative journalism. Here's the problem. As with Catfish a few years ago it is impossible to talk about the film without divulging the twists and turns which make it such an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately the whole of my review will be a spoiler so those wishing to follow it fresh should stop reading now and go out and buy the film.

     If you're still reading then you either know the full story or you one of those people who insists on playing with the wrapped presents under the Christmas tree, trying to work out what's in them. The central surprise of the film is that unlike Waiting for Godot the result of Searching for Sugar Man is that Rodriguez aka Sugar Man is found. Finding people in this day and age with social media and an overflowing pool of information is not a difficult task. Finding Sugar Man in 2013 probably wouldn't be all that hard. This story, however, goes back to the 1990s.

     Searching for Sugar Man is the story of how two South African fans of 1970s recording artist Rodriguez Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom set out to find out what happened to their musical idol. The story of unrecognized genius is not an uncommon one. In the late 60s singer-songwriter Rodriguez , living in downtown Detroit, met up with record producers and put out an album that was destined to be a defining musical statement of his generation. Except it wasn't. The album, Cold Fact, died a quiet death and Rodriguez's second album Coming from Reality, recorded in London, did no better. Like many artists his tilt at frame was brief and after being dropped by his record label Rodriguez went back to life of manual labour.

     In the late 70s due to the single I Wonder Rodriguez had some popularity in Australia and toured twice. Some critics of the documentary have suggested that it dishonestly represents Rodriguez career as having no success when at least he sold some records and toured in Australia. The film, however, is not about the minor success down under but rather the massive success in South Africa.

     Unbeknownst to Rodriguez his albums had not only been wildly successful, selling half a million copies, but had inspired a generation of white South Africans to protest against the establishment in their country, particularly the apartheid regime. Rodriguez became a voice of the generation for South Africans. Ask anyone who grew up in South Africa in the 70s and Rodriguez is prominent in their musical life (also their love life - he makes great make out records!).

     Director Malik Bendjelloul constructs a detective story out of the search showing us the process by which the two fans of Rodriguez set out to find out more information about their hero and particularly to get the true story of his demise, which was variously reported as a terrible suicide, supposedly on stage, due to the lack of fame he experienced. Of course, that wasn't true. After taking all the steps you do in a pre-internet world the guys finally talked to the producer of Cold Fact who reacted with surprise when asked to clarify how Rodriguez died, pointing out that he was still very much alive and working in construction in Detroit.

     What follows is the extraordinary story of Rodriguez's almost Lazarus like ascension from working demolition to performing in front of huge, ecstatic crowds in South Africa. That story is not ended. Rodriguez is touring around the world performing his music and whilst he is no longer the young cool guy sitting cross-legged on the front of Cold Fact he can still knock out a tune.

     This is a documentary of surprise and joy. It is, from me, also a sad document. Listening to the two albums is sometimes a revelatory experience. They are both excellent albums with amazing lyrics and interesting arrangements. Although he has been compared with Dylan Rodriguez probably forms a bridge between the sometimes inscrutable wordplay of Dylan and the street life of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. The sadness is that albums of quality music like this did not sell and Rodriguez did not record another album (though he may do in the future). The 70s saw an awful lot of terrible music getting constant airplay and it is profoundly sad that Rodriguez did not get the success and recognition he deserved and continue to play live and record music during his heyday.

     That Rodriguez is alive is amazing, that he is still performing is perhaps more amazing. The documentary itself is structured like a journey, keeping the reveal until partway through. The man himself is notoriously circumspect. One of the South African journalists who interviewed him in the 90s expressed his exasperation that he managed to speak to the legend for an extended interview and got nothing out of him. This film doesn't really answer the questions of what Rodriguez did with the 30 years between his last album and the first South African tour. There are three children who speak for him though there is no mention of Mrs Rodriguez. And although there is much talk of the demolition work that he did during this period there is little discussion of what he actually did. Nor does the film get to the bottom or the sordid money trail that saw him penniless for most of his life. Rodriguez , the man, remains a mystery.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Searching for Sugar Man comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio consistent with the original cinematic ratio.

     The documentary draws from a number of sources. Some of them stretch as far back as the early 70s but there is a lot of video footage from the 90s. This footage has been cleaned up but has not been the subject of a frame by frame restoration. In other words it retains that rawness of the original era. Far from being off-putting this gives the film an immediacy. Additionally, Super 8 was used to recreate the mood of the 70s for some recreations. This looks as it should. Finally, the director was so broke at one point that he couldn’t afford Super 8 and filmed some scenes on his smartphone using a Super 8 app.

     The rest of the film consists of talking heads footage of the various key players in the Rodriguez story including his fans, record industry people and his family. There is also brief interview footage of Rodriguez .

     The quality of these talking heads is fairly good throughout though this can't be compared with a reference quality nature documentary.

     Image is sufficiently clear and crisp throughout. There are no issues with compression. The colours are accurate and stable. There are, as said, technical defects in the original footage but nothing that would be of any concern to fans of documentary films.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
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Audio

     Searching for Sugar Man comes with a DTS HD Master Audio English track in 5.1 surround.

     Such high-powered sonic specifications are usually unnecessary when it comes to documentary films. The surround effects are rarely utilised and the loss-less sound doesn't add much to the show. Nevertheless it is always a pleasure to have high-quality sound.

     The sub-woofer only really fires up when a thunderstorm hits Detroit.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout.

     The real benefit of the high-definition sound is in the music. Naturally the songs of Rodriguez dominate and are delivered here with a punchiness that is raw and exciting. There is some spread of the music through the other channels which makes it interesting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There are three extras with this Blu-ray.

Making of Searching for Sugar Man (30.49)

     This is a high quality Making of film. It is directed and edited well and helps inform and add to the experience of the movie. Director Malik Bendjelloul talks at length about the inspiration for the story and the long and tortuous process of bringing it to the screen. Leaving aside the budgetary problems, which sometimes became chronic, he had to deal with the very limited historical footage of Rodriguez and the reluctance of his subject to be filmed. The result is a feature which is entertaining from beginning to end.

Rodriguez Live (3.01)

     Rodriguez plays Sugar Man at the Phoenix Artists Club. It is a solo performance. Truth be told there are better videos of the man available on the internet. Check them out.

Theatrical Trailer (2.23)

     The trailer that first piqued the interest of many, including me!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Region A version of this Blu-ray has an audio commentary track from the director and the Sugar Man himself plus a 10 minute Q&A from the Tribeca Film Festival. That is the best version available.

Summary

     Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary that belongs in the collection of any fan of music and documentaries in general. It is sad and yet uplifting in equal parts.

     The Blu-ray is of good quality and the extras are detailed and interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, March 25, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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