Can we just say right here and now that the Oscars are real crap this year? I haven’t seen any of the nominees for Best Picture – not even Lincoln which I have had ample opportunity to see – and the chances of me seeing any of them before the Oscar broadcast are pretty slim. Usually, Oscar season is a fun time of year during which we see many movies which culminates in an Oscar party on Oscar night. This year, even the Oscar party is cancelled. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m going to be working the night shift for four nights, ending on Sunday morning of the Oscars. That day will be my turnaround day and I’m usually a zombie so we just decided to bail on it rather than force myself to stay up for the ceremony. And really, since I haven’t seen any of the major contenders, do I really even care this year?
Well, yes and no. One thing I’m trying to do is to see as many of the nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category as I can. Fortunately, a lot of these are streaming on Netflix or on DVD, so I’m well on my way. I watched How To Survive A Plague a few weeks back, which tells the story of ACT-UP, the group of AIDS activists who lobbied the government for speedier HIV drug approval. I always knew that I would enjoy that documentary, and I wasn’t disappointed. Last night, I started Searching For Sugar Man on my iPad. I intended to watch only a half hour or so, but I watched nearly all of it, bailing with 20 minutes left only because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. That was certainly not the fault of the documentary, which was as up my alley as How To Survive A Plague, albeit in a completely different way.
Searching For Sugar Man is all about Sixto Rodriguez, a folk-country singer who released a pair of albums in the early 70s. The albums did nothing in the U.S., and he was dropped from his label. Rumors of his death via an on-stage suicide abounded, and he disappeared into obscurity. In stark contrast to his reception in the U.S., the albums took off in South Africa, selling an estimated half a million copies. However, his South African fanbase knew virtually nothing about Rodriguez, which led a pair of intrepid men – one a record store owner and another a music journalist – to get to the bottom of the Rodriguez story.
I don’t want to say any more than that at risk of spoiling the story, because watching it unfold was mesmerizing. I don’t think what happens in the film is as important as how it plays out. I didn’t know anything about Rodriguez before watching Searching For Sugar Man, but I was still caught up in his story. A part of the reason for that is because it told the story from the 70s, a time period that is only now far enough away that we can look at it objectively. It was also partly because it’s one of two documentaries I have in my to-be-watched queue – the other being Detropia. But mostly, it’s because the story of Rodriguez and his flirtation with fame was feel-good and I really feel like in this day and age, we need that.
I enjoyed Searching For Sugar Man so much that if it won over How To Survive A Plague, I wouldn’t cry too much. Even though there are some questions about how many sins of omission the director committed in the interest of telling a better story (don’t click this link if you want to stay spoiler free), I’d say it was still a well told story that was more than worthy of my time and lost sleep. And to no one’s shock or surprise, I had to go buy some Rodriguez after I was done watching it.
Two documentaries down, three to go.