Searching For Sugar Man recounts how two fans began an earnest search to find out what really happened to their musical hero. They embarked on a cross-country quest, using phone directories, inquiries in trade publications and early Internet message boards to eventually discover that all this time their hero was living safe and sound in Detroit as a day laborer, without even the slightest clue that his music had even made it halfway across the globe, much less that he was a musical and cultural icon in South Africa.
The documentary recounts this fascinating story that gets even better after the parties meet and some of the distance and time from the past 40 years is cinched up. Director Malik Bendjelloul - who is Swedish, adding yet another international piece to this puzzle - delivers a brisk, entertaining and intriguing character study of an uncelebrated musician who finally received some of his due. In the process, we meet several of the key people involved during his brief early career, as well as many South Africans who were both inspired by his work and helped to make sure his story didn't end in obscurity. It's both an enjoyable and inspirational tale, and one of the more intriguing documentaries of the past few years.
Video / Audio
There is a variety of source material used in the film, and so picture quality can vary widely scene to scene. All of the new location and interview footage is presented from very clean digital sources, with crisp detail and pleasant colors. A good bit of vintage super 8 footage - which shows South Africa during the 1970s - is enjoyable, with the obvious limitations and caveats of the medium. Some rather meager video footage - perhaps VHS - is also utilized and these sections obviously are what they are. But overall the time travel between formats and sources works well, and the new material reveals a very well-managed transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is actually more impressive than one would expect for a documentary grounded by interviews and stereo music recordings. The music cues are very well mixed and offer noticeable punch and immersion, being more integrated into the surround mix than one might expect. The dialogue sections are obviously front-centric, but kept deftly balanced. There are even a few standout moments where surround activity from either environment or foley sounds is integrated more deeply. For a documentary the sound on this disc is quite good, and provides an extra layer of polish not always present in the genre.
If you're looking for the commentary track by director Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez himself to answer all the questions left over from the film, prepare to be somewhat disappointed. Bendjelloul carries the conversation, with excited energy to spare, while Rodriguez offers occasional memories from the creation of his two albums and otherwise seems overly reticent to answer many questions. Bendjelloul provides several interesting tidbits about the actual filming of the documentary, but even he admits that there are a couple of mysteries still outstanding.