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Searching for Sugar Man

Whatever became of the unknown American musician who was a early-1970s star in South Africa?

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Malik Bendjelloul's documentary follows two South African men — a jeweler-turned-record-store-owner and a music writer — as they search for the story behind Rodriguez, a little-known American singer and songwriter whose 1970 album Cold Fact became a classic in South Africa despite barely selling in the United States. On the way to finding the truth about Rodriguez, Bendjelloul explores the role of music in the anti-apartheid movement, the complicated logistics of cultural imports and exports, and the state of the record industry in the early '70s. (The only seeming villain in the otherwise heartwarming tale is Clarence Avant, head of the Sussex label and later chairman of Motown. His cameo lasts long enough for him to heap praise on Rodriguez — then grow quite defensive when questioned about the money that must have come in from a half-million record sales in South Africa in the '70s and '80s.) The ending is unlikely and inspiring, and the city shots — from Capetown to Detroit — are beautiful.

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