(US - 2012)
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
(UK/Sweden/Belgium/Denmark/Finland - 2012)
Director Malik Bendjelloul has been criticized by detractors who claim that he selectively reveals information and tailors the story to suit a narrative that Rodriguez has been forgotten by everyone, ignoring the fact that Rodriguez had a strong following in Australia and New Zealand until the early 1980s. It's simply not the case when you consider that, aside from Australia and New Zealand being mentioned in passing, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is as much about Apartheid-era South Africa as it is about Rodriguez. Bendjelloul is telling the story from the perspective of Segerman, Bartholomew-Strydom, and a legion of South African fans who were in their teens and 20s in the 1970s and who lived in an oppressive country where forward-thinking whites would get a three-year jail sentence just for openly criticizing Apartheid and the government. And this was pre-internet. The information South Africans received from beyond their borders was controlled and disseminated. The South African government had a file on Rodriguez and had the more incendiary tracks on his LPs scratched with a knife so radio stations wouldn't play those particular songs. How would these young people living under such rule be aware that Rodriguez was still relatively big in Australia and New Zealand? Only in the film's second half does it find and introduce Rodriguez, who had no idea that he'd sold millions of records in South Africa and never saw any money from it. This brings up another issue when the head of the South African record label says he's been dutifully been paying royalties to the long-defunct Sussex Records (which folded in 1975) and its owner Clarence Avant, who later became the chairman of Motown Records for most of the 1990s. Avant is interviewed and goes from cordial and sentimental to extremely testy when he's asked about the royalties from Rodriguez's South African record sales. As Rodriguez's youngest daughter says near the end of the film, "Well, somebody got the money." But money doesn't seem to matter much to Rodriguez, who appears to walk the walk when it comes to his art and his life. He's active in the community (including one unsuccessful 1980s mayoral bid), still does manual labor in the downtown Detroit area, and gave most of the money earned from his several subsequent South African tours to family, friends, and charities. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is an emotional and triumphant story of an artist who made a difference...just not where he would've ever expected. He's a charismatic, magnetic character and the music is terrific. (PG-13, 86 mins)
(UK/US - 2012)
THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988), but he also conducts this "documentary" in as manipulative a fashion as Frederic Bourdin played a grieving Texas family. 14-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his San Antonio neighborhood in 1994 after a fight with his family. In Linares, Spain in 1997, someone claiming to be Nicholas Barclay is found. Layton allows Bourdin to explain himself and the improbable chain of events that led to the then-23-year-old Frenchman assuming the identity of a missing Texas teenager. It makes for a fascinating story, but Bourdin is, at best, an unreliable narrator. Luck and circumstance get Bourdin-as-"Nicholas" reunited with his family, and even though he looks nothing like Nicholas, speaks with a French accent, and is foggy on past events and the names of friends and relatives, they welcome "Nicholas" home with open arms and a loving heart as Bourdin spins a wild tale about being abducted by US military personnel, chloroformed, and taken overseas to be brainwashed, beaten, and raped for three years. Bourdin is so convincing that he even fools the US Embassy in Spain and FBI agents back home. His ruse gradually unravels after a medical exam and the dogged persistence of Charlie Wilson, a San Antonio private eye with the folksy demeanor of Matlock. Wilson becomes obsessed with proving "Nicholas" isn't Nicholas, certain that he's a spy or a terrorist, and even after Bourdin's ruse is exposed, the FBI can't convince the family that this person living with them isn't Nicholas.
Layton, an executive producer of the SyFy reality series PARANORMAL WITNESS, pulls a Frederic Bourdin-level juggling act in his presentation of this story. He films it as a thriller with frequent interview snippets, and like a thriller, THE IMPOSTER plays its cards close to the vest, revealing the whole story in bits and pieces in ways that probably disqualify it as a "pure" documentary, and leaving out key elements of the story (what's the deal with the mysterious older brother who hasn't been interviewed?) until it can provide a shocking twist in the tale. It's outstanding entertainment at any rate--often as shocking and thrilling as watching THE USUAL SUSPECTS for the first time, and Layton keeps the audience on its toes by constantly making you shift your alliances. You'll believe both Bourdin and the family and berate them in equal doses. A fascinating film. (R, 99 mins)
(US - 2012)