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'Searching For Sugar Man' Is Well Worth the Hunt

Searching For Sugar Man
Sony Pictures Classics

You'd be very hard-pressed to find a more crowd-pleasing documentary this year than the Sundance award-winner, "Searching for Sugar Man."

Ever since kicking off this year's festival in Park City to a rapturous audience who gave the film a prolonged standing ovation, Malik Bendjelloul's feature-length debut has been charming the pants off of audiences the world over. It finally hits select theaters on July 27, so you can see for yourself what all the well-earned fuss is about.

The film plays like a gentler cousin to "The Imposter," another documentary released this year that keeps its best twist for last, and one that tells a story so strange, it could only be true.

The Sugar Man of the title is Rodriguez, a man you've probably never heard of, despite being one of the greatest rock icons from the '70s (once you hear some of his tracks in the film, you'll understand why). As the documentary recounts, Rodriguez was a Detroit-based artist who was plucked from obscurity by two big-name producers to record an album that was supposed to launch a lucrative recording career. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, and the world, that never happened. But thanks to a bootleg recording that found its way into apartheid South Africa, the singer/songwriter became an icon for the revolution. Funny thing is, the poor guy didn't have a clue.

The film starts out as a chronicle of the artist's legacy via interviews with his most diehard fans and colleagues who fought to see him succeed stateside. But what begins as a history lesson on a man we all should already be familiar with soon morphs into something else altogether when it's revealed that there are a number of rumors around the man. Throughout the majority of his career, his whereabouts remained completely unknown to even his most devoted fans. The mystery surrounding Rodriguez led folks to believe that he had offed himself. Some even say go so far as to claim that he set himself ablaze onstage in front of a live audience. Talk about a rock star way to go.

Don't worry: Bendjelloul does reveal whether Rodriguez is indeed dead or alive. Google can actually answer that riddle, but we wholeheartedly suggest you go in knowing only what you read here. The surprise, and the ensuing emotional climax, are well worth the wait.

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