Making the Grades
Before the day of Internet sensations and web searches, Sixto Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrants, dreamt of a singing career. His music style and gritty lyrics about sex, drugs and life on the rough streets caught the interest of producers at Sussex Records. In the early 1970s, Rodriguez cut two albums (Cold Fact and Coming from Reality) for the label. But after mixed reviews and poor sales, the Detroit poet and songwriter abandoned his hopes and took work in the demolition business in order to feed a growing family,
Meanwhile one of his records made its way to South Africa and soon bootleg copies were being passed around among a young generation who felt oppressed by their country’s government. Without his knowledge, Rodriguez’s anthems inspired a revolution of thought despite officials’ efforts to ban his songs by scratching records and threatening radio stations.
As Rodriguez’s popularity grew so did rumors about the virtually unknown performer. One claimed he committed suicide by setting himself on fire on stage in front of his fans. Another asserted he shot himself in the head at the end of an unsuccessful gig. Finally two Cape Town fans, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman undertook the challenge of finding out the truth.
After hitting seemingly endless dead ends, Bartholomew-Strydom stumbles upon a previously unnoticed line in a song that points him in the direction of Dearborn, Michigan where he finally finds a lead on the singer. That, combined with a website dedicated to the missing musician, put the fans in contact with Rodriguez’s daughter Eva.
Combining interviews from those who knew and worked with the young artist as well as the man’s daughters, the documentary, from Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, contains early footage and photos of Rodriguez along with grainy video of concert performances. The script also includes comments about suicide, brief footage of riots, a strong sexual expletive, other profanities and song lyrics about drugs and sex.
While still largely unknown in the United States, Rodriguez is experiencing a resurgence in the musical career he thought had eluded him and is starting to cash in on the kind of fame he once could only dream of.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Searching For Sugar Man.
How did Rodriguez lack of initial success impact his life’s direction? What does his construction coworker say about Rodriguez’s approach to the dirty work of demolition? What effect does his newfound fame have on the singer?
How might his career have unfolded differently if he were to begin his career now? How does he preserve the mystery surrounding his personal life? What effect may this film have on his future? Can celebrities protect their privacy in the age of the Internet?