Searching For Sugar Man” finds a Modern Day Epicurus.

"Searching For Sugar Man".

Search­ing For Sug­ar Man”.

It’s hard to know which is more remark­able, the doc­u­men­tary Search­ing For Sug­ar Man, or its sub­ject the musi­cian Six­to Rodriguez.

I’ll not in any way spoil the film by reveal­ing the many, many extra­or­di­nary twists and turns that are revealed in the course of its nar­ra­tive. But broad­ly speak­ing, the sto­ry is as follows:

In the ear­ly 70s a young singer song writer by the name of Rodriguez pro­duced a cou­ple of albums that were extreme­ly well received crit­i­cal­ly speak­ing, but dis­ap­peared with­out a trace sales wise. So like many before and since, he went back to his day job.

Rodriguez' debut album from 1970 is, surprisingly, a genuine classic.

Rodriguez’ debut album from 1970 is, sur­pris­ing­ly, a gen­uine classic.

Mean­while, com­plete­ly unbe­knownst to him his debut album Cold Fact (’70) caught fire in South Africa, sell­ing between half a mil­lion and a mil­lion copies there, a stag­ger­ing quan­ti­ty giv­en the size of the territory.

As one of the inter­vie­wees tes­ti­fies, every white, mid­dle class, would-be rev­o­lu­tion­ary qui­et­ly seething under the apartheid regime gave three records pride of place in their secret­ly stashed LP col­lec­tion; The Bea­t­lesAbbey Road, Simon and Gar­funkel’s Bridge Over Trou­bled Water, and RodriguezCold Fact.

With­out giv­ing any­thing away, the film is in two halves. Ini­tial­ly it’s the quest of one of the many, huge fans of his in South Africa who hooks up with a music jour­nal­ist in the 90s, to go in search of their lost mes­si­ah. Whilst its sec­ond half reveals what hap­pens after they find him.

When the film was nom­i­nat­ed for the Oscar that it went on to win in 2013, Rodriguez polite­ly declined to attend the cer­e­mo­ny, on the basis that he didn’t want to take any of the atten­tion away from Malik Bend­jel­loul, the man who’d actu­al­ly made the film.

Ordi­nar­i­ly this is the kind of ges­ture one expects from a con­ven­tion­al­ly faux mod­est, care­ful­ly cal­cu­lat­ing self-pub­li­cist look­ing to gen­er­ate fur­ther air time and head­lines. But what this doc­u­men­tary demon­strates is that not only is Rodriguez a gen­uine­ly deep thinker, almost unique­ly he lives his life accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples he keeps. And those prin­ci­ples are best described as Epi­cure­an.

The second Rodriguez album from '71, almost as good as the first.

The sec­ond Rodriguez album from ’71, almost as good as the first.

Epi­cu­rus taught that if you find your­self sit­ting with a piece of bread and a glass of water in front of you, and the man next to you has a large steak and a jug of wine, you need to edu­cate your­self to focus on how nour­ish­ing and tasty your piece of bread will be, and on how won­der­ful­ly refresh­ing that glass of water is. Even if you know deep down that it is already luke warm.

If you can teach your­self to be ever less dis­sat­is­fied with what you have and your lot in life, you will nec­es­sar­i­ly be hap­pi­er with your life as you live it.

The 4th cen­tu­ry Greek philoso­pher Epi­cu­rus was extolled by the Roman poet Lucretius in the first cen­tu­ry BC. And the redis­cov­ery of the only copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature Of Things, and there­fore our only source on Epi­cu­rus, was bril­liant­ly chart­ed by Stephen Green­blatt in his won­der­ful The Swerve, reviewed ear­li­er here.

Well Rodriguez, remark­ably, is a bona fide mod­ern day Epicurus.

This won­der­ful film does, alas, have a coda. It proved incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to finance. But against all the odds, it was even­tu­al­ly com­plet­ed, and quite right­ly went on to win both that year’s Baf­ta and the Oscar a few weeks lat­er. Sure­ly you’d think his next film would be sig­nif­i­cant­ly eas­i­er to finance. We’ll nev­er know. Because six months ago Malik Bend­jel­loul took his own life.

Search­ing for Sug­ar Man is a cel­e­bra­tion of an extra­or­di­nary singer song writer. And of a won­der­ful film mak­er. You can see the trail­er here.

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