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March 11, 2013
Searching for Sugar Man Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
4/10/201227/2/2013MadmanMalik Bendjelloul
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MStephen 'Sugar' Segerman

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This brief animation is quite gorgeous.

Unless you're a South African there's little chance you've ever heard of Sixto Rodriguez. He only made two albums, and both bombed except in South Africa where the singer became a household name among the biggest bands in the world. When I saw the trailer for this documentary in early 2012 I was instantly hooked - great music and an interesting premise; who wouldn't want to know what happened to cause this singer to take his life on stage one day. Needless to say, this is a powerful, moving, story and it's recent Academy Award win for Best Documentary is testament to how great this release is.

Sixto Rodriguez (most commonly known simply as Rodriguez) was a musician in America in the 1970's however, despite being critically well received, his two albums failed to sell in any quantity in America and he was soon dropped by his record label. On the other side of the world however Rodriguez's albums became extremely popular in South Africa where his songs struck a chord with anti-apartheid protestors and he became more popular than the Rolling Stones selling over half a million records, and possibly more.

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Sixto Rodriguez back in the 1970s.
Two South African men, Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman and Craig Strydom, joined together to find out who the singer was, and how he died with various reports suggesting he committed suicide on stage either by shooting himself, or more gruesomely setting himself on fire. Their journey to discover the truth is the basis behind this documentary from director Malik Bendjelloul.

With a runtime of 86 minutes this is a film which keeps a brisk pace over its runtime but is littered with snippets from 14 of Rodriguez songs. It's this music that really clicks - it truly is inspirationally wonderful music that deserved to turn Rodriguez into a superstar when the albums released in the 1970s. The film touches on many topics including how Rodriguez was discovered, the release and failure of his two albums, his popularity in South Africa and importance to the music scene in that country, Apartheid, and much more.

Towards latter part of the film those looking for Rodriguez contact the Co-Producer of Rodriguez's first album "Cold Fact" and subsequently get contacted by one of Rodriguez's daughters in America - and as a result the vault to Rodriguez's life is unlocked with many questions about who the man was finally being answered - including how he died - with some surprising results.

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Rodriguez failed to make it in America.
Searching for Sugar Man is such an uplifting and engrossing documentary that finally gives a legendary folk singer the recognition that he deserved in the early 1970s when his two albums bombed, but became phenomenal successes around the other side of the globe. Definitely a film worth checking out.

Searching for Sugar Man is presented on Blu-Ray in a HDTV screen-filling 16:9 aspect ratio using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The video quality is, admittedly a little all over the place with some lovely sharp 1080p clarity to some images, and then, intentionally, much lower quality for segments recorded on 8mm film and through an iPhone to simulate 8mm film. Then there's some stock footage from the 1970's and 1990's that also has a lower resolution and quality to it. Given that this documentary includes footage over several decades there is some inconsistency but in general - and especially in the modern interviews - the transfer retains plenty of fine detail and clarity.

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Detailing Rodriguez' suicide on stage.
There is only one single audio track on this disc and no subtitles. Fortunately the soundtrack is a rather cracking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which for a documentary may sound over the top but really helps Rodriguez's music sound it's absolute best, and it's fantastic. As you can imagine the soundtrack is generally very front heavy, although the surrounds are given some life on occasion which was nice to hear.

Within the first few minutes of the film (from 3:15 to 3:51) there is a tremendous thunderstorm shown and (assuming you have a decent sub-woofer) the bass levels will have your entire room shaking with the rumble of the thunder - it's fantastic stuff, but there are a couple of other similar instances of jaw-dropping moments throughout this documentary.

There aren't too many extras on this disc but the main "Making Of" documentary is well worth checking out.

Making Of (30:49/HD): Running for half an hour this documentary looks at the process of creating this film and includes plenty of information about the process of interviewing people, having finances pulled before finishing the film, and the resurgence in Rodriguez since the documentary was completed including the premiere at Sundance. Definitely worth a look.

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Video quality in Searching for Sugar Man is solid, but occasional stunning such as this.
Rodriguez Live (3:01/HD): Here's a clip of Rodriguez performing his song "Sugar Man".

Theatrical Trailer (2:23/HD): This is the Theatrical Trailer for "Searching for Sugar Man" and it gives a great idea what to expect from the film - but it contains some of the big moments so you may want to avoid to remain spoiler free (like all trailers really).

Madman Propaganda (2:23/HD): After the anti-piracy trailer we have trailers for "Paul Kelly: Stories of Me" (2:17), "Your Sister's Sister" (2:29), "Bernie" (2:09), and "The Hunter" (1:48).

Searching For Sugar Man is a delightful documentary which chronicles the life of a musician that became massively popular in a country on the other side of the world. This Academy Award documentary is superb and has been given a gorgeous transfer on Blu-Ray which makes it a disc well worth picking up - and if you're having trouble finding retailers selling the disc, buy it direct from Madman.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Madman. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.