The film Searching for Sugar Man is in part the familiar story of a musician who makes a couple of records, sells almost none and then drifts into obscurity.
But only in part.
Nominated for the best-documentary Oscar and arriving on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, the film shows how that early fading by singer-songwriter Rodriguez was followed by a stunning success, as those seemingly forgotten recordings became inspirational for the citizens of a distant country, and a man who was no more than a day laborer in Detroit ended up playing for thousands in South Africa.
He then became the subject of the Searching film, played on David Letterman’s show, was profiled by 60 Minutes — yet remained a humble and somewhat elusive figure most compelling through his artful music and poetic lyrics. (You should also check out the movie’s soundtrack of Rodriguez songs, from Legacy Recordings.)
Searching for Sugar Man (Sony, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray) takes us into Rodriguez’s life these days, but not before explaining in detail why he is worth visiting. That includes the early discovery of his music, and the recording of two albums, Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming From Reality in 1971. Rodriguez was compared to Bob Dylan, but I also hear bits of Tim Buckley and Phil Ochs, as well as a vocal style with echoes of Jose Feliciano. While they did not make any impact in the U.S., the albums found their way overseas, where — according to Rodriguez’s website, www.sugarman.org — they gained a following in Australia and in South Africa.
In the latter country, Rodriguez’s songs of social despair and his frank lyrics were kept off the radio — but were still heard, often through bootlegs. And because little was known about the singer, legends grew around him, especially about his having died.
But Rodriguez was not dead; he was working regular jobs in Detroit, dabbling in politics, studying philosophy and maintaining a quiet life with his family. Only in the ’90s, when fans began a serious search for Rodriguez and put the Internet to use, was he found, and brought to South Africa; his family thought he would be playing for a few dozen people, only to see 5,000 at a single show.
It’s an amazing story, and well told by filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, who tracked down seemingly everyone who knew Rodriguez or had worked with him. The DVD and Blu-ray add more material, including a making-of piece and audio commentary by Rodriguez and Bendjelloul. But use this as a reason to check out Rodriguez’s music, too.
Other items of note on Tuesday include End of Watch (Universal, $24.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo), a gritty police drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena; The Paperboy (Millennium, $28.99 DVD, $1 more for Blu-ray), a crime story from writer-director Lee Daniels (director of Precious), and The Men Who Built America (Lionsgate, $29.98 DVD, $38.98 Blu-ray). the eight-part History series about Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and others.
Available now, and worth your attention, is Compliance (Magnolia, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray), a horrifying and controversial film about how far people will go when authority tells them to.
An Ohio restaurant manager (Ann Dowd) receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer — and telling her that an employee has stolen from a customer. The caller then has the manager interrogate and search the employee (Dreama Walker), a process that becomes ever more awful as it goes along.
Inspired by real incidents, and with Chagrin Falls native Tyler Davidson as one of the producers, Compliance is all the more frightening because writer-director Craig Zobel keeps it so mundane. The film stumbles near the end as it veers from the restaurant to the search for the phone caller, but until then — and in a final scene — it is dreadfully effective.
Extras include an interview with Zobel and a behind-the-scenes segment.
Down video road: Best in Show, the comedy classic from Christopher Guest, comes to Blu-ray on Feb. 19. Parental Guidance, the Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 26. Maigret Complete Collection, with Michael Gambon as Georges Simenon’s detective, comes to DVD on Feb. 26.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.