Documentaries tell you as much about the motives of the makers as they do about the subject. This beautifully shot and uplifting documentary purports to tell the story of the under-recognised career of 1970s singer Rodriguez. Unheard of in his Amercian homeland, he became an icon for the South African anti-apartheid movement; a popularity only enhanced by the rumours which took on the status of fact of his on-sate suicide at a concert which wasn’t going to plan in the USA. So the film tells the story of 2 South Africans (one music journalist, one fan) who link up to unearth the truth of his death – and end up meeting him, and bringing him on tour to South Africa.
So far, so uplifting. It’s a well told, visually imaginative story – especially if, like me, you grew up in the UK more or less ignorant of Rodriguez. Which is where the film is actually a bit disingenuous. There’s nothing false; but the devil here is in the detail that’s left out. A quick piece of research will tell you that Rodriguez had a similar 1970s following in Australia and New Zealand as well as more recent performances in parts of Europe. It doesn’t suit the narrative of the film – which allows us to conclude that the apartheid resistance alone kept his flame alive, and that his discovery and subsequent tour was both unique to them and a reward for their faithfulness – to tell the whole truth. It’s a form of special pleading which adds romance but leaves a slightly sour taste when you discover the truth.
This is a story that has romance, suspense and a beautiful soundtrack. A little more truthfulness in the mix would have lifted it from the realms of the very good to that of the great; and would have shed as much light on contemporary South Africa as it does on the soundtrack to apartheid’s resistance.
I rated this movie 4.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 8/10 on imdb.com