Posts Tagged ‘Searching for Sugar Man’

Another year gone by, and (as has become a bit of a tradition) another look at the last twelve months on the blog. Hey, if nothing else it helps to break up the endless flow of film reviews and Doctor Who-related cobblers, right?

Speaking personally, this has been a slightly odd year – the diploma course which really defined the first half of the year for me concluded moderately well, though not quite as well as I’d hoped, and as for the second half… My summer job felt like a bit of a slog for the first time since I started doing it, while throughout this Autumn I’ve felt my relationship with my rest-of-the-year employer growing increasingly strained. Added to this, since the diploma finished I’ve been without a medium-to-long-term goal for the first time since 2006, and it feels like I’ve been drifting and lacking in focus ever since. I’m increasingly realising that I need to keep pushing and challenging myself if I’m not going to lapse into self-absorption and melancholia. As I lead a fairly solitary life, something which I’ve realised is unlikely ever to change, this sort of thing is a constant concern anyway. It’s good to stay self-aware, I suppose.


Anyway, there were just under 10,000 views of this blog in 2012, which sounds nice but I’ve no idea how it compares to anyone else’s. Naive old fool, I thought I was doing okay with 35 followers after two years, before a friend chirpily informed me that her company’s blog had picked up 250 followers after a week. Over a thousand of those visits all came on the same day, mainly as a result of the Mail on Sunday‘s website publicising my piece on Peter Hitchens and Howard Marks’ debate on drugs laws (oh, the shame, the shame). Obviously I need to write more positive things about Hitchens so he links to me again, and just hope people stick around for the Hammer horror reviews. Well, I’m sure a worse plan is conceivable.


The Hitchens thing was the biggest draw of the year by far, with the bulk of the rest of the top five being bankers from 2011 – the final instalment of the original run of Natural History of Evil continues to pack ’em in, along with that silly piece about Lacey Banghard and her two great assets (her Christian name and surname, of course). The only 2012 piece to make the list was… the review of 2011 (sigh), mainly, I suspect, because it also talks about Miss Banghard. I suspect a pattern has been established.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

A rare photo of Lacey Banghard where her face is the most prominent element.

Bringing up the rear was another hardy perennial, the review of The Viking Queen. I am completely stumped as to why this keeps pulling in the readers week after week after week – there isn’t, so far as I can tell, anything accidentally suggestive in there that could confuse a search engine, nor is this a notable cult film. Why are so many people reading this one post and ignoring much better-written material completely? I must confess I’m starting to get mildly irritated by it.


The bulk of what I’ve written this year has been film reviews, as usual. I thought the overall quality was higher than in 2011, but with fewer really outstanding individual films – the best things I saw at the cinema this year were Lawrence of Arabia (from 1962), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (from 1943) and RoboCop (from 1987). Perhaps I’m being a little unfair, as there were still some great movies being released – Chronicle, The Cabin in the Woods, The Raid and The Imposter all turned out to be off-the-radar hits, while there were some quality blockbusters too – The Avengers was better than it really had any right to be, while The Dark Knight Rises, though not Christopher Nolan at the absolute top of his game, was still hugely impressive and deeply satisfying. Despite all that, if I had to name my favourite film from 2012 it would probably be Searching for Sugar Man. An extremely difficult call though.


I think I’ve gone on in quite enough detail about my issues with the Autumn’s crop of Doctor Who, especially as the Christmas show has given me hope that a new and much more impressive approach may be in the offing. Obviously 2013 will be a massive year for all of us who love Doctor Who – expectations are enormous, and it’s difficult to imagine quite how the custodians of the show and the BBC will be able to meet them all.

In the end surprisingly little wargaming or serious uke-playing happened this year, mainly because for a large chunk of the Autumn I was either on holiday abroad or in the grip of one of those emotional entanglements which has occasionally complicated my life prior to this point. A shame, because the wargaming and uke-playing would at least have given me material for a worthwhile post or four.

 Expectations for 2013 are guarded, currently: if I can work solidly and feel like I am making some sort of professional progress, and continue to be a good friend and family member to those around me, I will be happy, regardless of whether I can afford a holiday, or World War Z is any good. Although it would be nice to finally get a WFB army painted before 9th Edition appears on the horizon. We shall see.

Read Full Post »

I had another go at my occasional hobby of organising DIY double-bills for myself today. On one level the two films concerned have virtually nothing in common, but then again I could happily describe the day’s festivities under the banner ‘Sugar/Candy’ without the slightest dishonesty. And they are both exceptionally rewarding films to watch, which is surely the most important thing.

They say that the mark of a great documentary is that it takes a subject you previously knew nothing about, and which honestly doesn’t sound that prepossessing, and makes it riveting in its own right. Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man is something quite different and almost wholly surprising.

The film opens with a blank screen over which a song begins to play, quickly joined by the picture of a coastal highway. The song is called ‘Sugar Man’, and I had never heard it before – and despite my musical nous only extending to the uke, it was immediately obvious that the singer knew his business. Talking about the song in the movie is Steve ‘Sugar’ Segerman, who got his nickname from the song. Sugar describes how he first came across the singer of the song, Rodriguez, the impact his music had, and the sadness he felt upon hearing of the bizarre, horrible nature of Rodriguez’s death: immolating himself on stage.

By this point most people will be wondering ‘Who the hell was this Rodriguez character?’ – I certainly was. The film obligingly fills us in: Rodriguez was a singer-songwriter based in Detroit in the late 60s, turning out highly accomplished pop-folk protest songs. A buzz collected around him and he recorded an album, Cold Fact, with some distinguished producers. It did not achieve the expected success, and so moved on to produce a second record, Coming from Reality. But this did not sell either, and as a result Rodriguez was dropped by the label and vanished back into the silence of obscurity.

A common enough story, as many failed musicians whose names you wouldn’t recognise could confirm. But the film is only just getting started. A copy of Cold Fact found its way to South Africa in the early Seventies, where it rapidly developed a devoted following amongst liberal white Afrikaaners responding to its anti-establishment tone. Perhaps the isolated nature of South Africa at this point in history is responsible, but – for whatever reason – an album which barely registered in the American or European charts became a massive hit in this part of the world. Rodriguez was as popular as the Beatles, and more popular than Elvis or the Rolling Stones, and is credited by South African musicians as having a huge influence on the cultural resistance to the apartheid regime.

And yet, also due to the nature of the world at this time, Rodriguez’s legions of fans knew virtually nothing about him beyond his name and a few clues scattered through the records. Various grim rumours went into circulation about the exact details of his death, but no-one was able to find out for certain. It was against this background that two fans, Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, set out to finally discover what had happened to their hero…

At this point I must stop, though it pains me to do so. Searching for Sugar Man has been structured in accordance with the presumption that this story will come as a total surprise to you, and as a result it will lose much of its impact if I go shooting my mouth off and spoiling the ending. For this reason I would recommend not doing anything like Googling Rodriguez or YouTubing his songs before seeing the film, should you be planning to. (I have to say that the trailer for this film spoils the ending quite spectacularly, so avoid that as well!) Suffice to say that the story related by the rest of the film is utterly astonishing, enormously emotional, and completely engrossing. This is one of the best and most remarkable films I’ve seen this year, and that’s really all you need to know.

Oh, well, if you insist… at the top I said that a good documentary turns an unlikely subject into a great story – but in this case the story itself is so incredible that it would take a complete oaf to muck up a film about it. Malik Bendjelloul is not that oaf and he does the tale full justice. This isn’t just a great documentary but a great movie, with a definite eye for appropriate cinematic flourishes and a real sense of an unfolding narrative.

However, one could easily argue that Bendjelloul has got a little carried away on this score, and the way the film is put together is actually a bit disingenuous, actively misleading the audience and withholding pertinent facts about Rodriguez – all in order to achieve its moments of shock and emotion later on. An interview with the rather chippy former owner of Rodriguez’s record label is particularly guilty of this, but this is sort of forgiveable given it’s one of the most telling sequences in the film: the man practically weeps recalling the fate of an artist he seems to have genuine affection for, then abruptly clams up and becomes aggressive when the issue of what happened to Rodriguez’s massive South African royalties is raised.

I suppose it boils down to whether you want to see a great piece of journalism or a great movie; Bendjelloul has opted for the later and achieved his goal with some style. If this movie did mislead me, it did so with such confidence and style that I’m more than willing to forgive it. Whether the director would be able to make an equally engrossing film about less-amazing subject matter – because there can’t be too many stories like this one floating around in obscurity – I don’t know. But Searching for Sugar Man is a brilliant achievement and a terrific film.

Read Full Post »