Remembering Malik Bendjelloul: Rest in peace

Rodriguez and Malik Bendjelloul at the Los Angeles press conference in 2012.

Rodriguez and Malik Bendjelloul at the Los Angeles press conference in 2012.

We at FNB were sad to learn of Malik Bendjelloul’s death on Tuesday in Stockholm. Mr. Bendjelloul won the Oscar in 2013 for his film “Searching for Sugar Man,” a deeply touching documentary about Detroit-born 1970s singer Sixto Rodriguez, who fell into obscurity in the U.S. but was revered in South Africa and elsewhere.

“I thought I’d never heard a better story in my life and would never hear a better story,” said Mr. Bendjelloul in 2012. “It was like somebody had written this wonderful script, except it was a real story. And it was a blessed story; every time I lifted a stone there was another gold coin. It was so much richer than I ever could have imagined.”

We met Mr. Bendjelloul and Rodriguez when they were in Los Angeles to promote the film in July 2012.  At that time, Mr. Bendjelloul was brimming with enthusiasm for the film and Rodriguez’s revived career. He struck us as an uncommonly talented filmmaker and we remember his intelligence, humility and low-key humor.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Bendjelloul’s family.

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A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena

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REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary

Hitchcock

Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary

Polisse

Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary

Unforgivable

Wuthering Heights

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REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross

Decoy

Gilda

Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Possessed

Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night

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REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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‘Searching for Sugar Man’ documentary – a man-hunt, a meditation and a fairy tale – is a must-see

Searching for Sugar Man/2012/Sony Pictures Classics/85 min.

“Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas,” goes a line in “Cause” by the Detroit-born singer/songwriter Rodriguez. If you’ve never heard of the song or the singer, he’s used to that. And he’s long been accustomed to the fickle tastes of the music business, having been dropped from the Sussex record label two weeks before Christmas of 1971.

He continued to write and play his songs of political protest, but for the most part faded from the American music scene after his albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971) both tanked in the U.S. Win some, lose some.

"Coming From Reality" was the second of two albums that flopped in the U.S.

In South Africa, however, through bootlegged copies of his music, he shot to stardom, inspiring young Afrikaners in their opposition to Apartheid and a repressive government. “He gave [us] permission to free our minds. To many South Africans, he was a soundtrack to our lives,” says South African journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, adding that the three essential records in those days were “Abbey Road,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Cold Fact.”

Despite his enormous popularity, his loyal fans knew little about him. By the ’90s, he ranked as a mysterious urban legend, owing to persistent and widespread rumors that he’d committed suicide on-stage. Trying to piece together the details of his demise, Bartholomew-Strydom and Stephen Segerman, a fellow fan/record seller, decided to probe what really happened.

Singer/songwriter Rodriguez at a June press conference in Los Angeles.

And in “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Stockholm-based documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, we find out. A man-hunt, a meditation and a fairy tale, it’s an unforgettable story, by turns bafflingly suspenseful and deeply moving. Says Rodriguez, now 70: “In rock ’n’ roll, there’s always disappointment, criticism, rejection. That’s part of it. And that it all worked out like this, it’s all right with me.”

Bendjelloul paints a contemplative, joyful and visually sumptuous portrait of an artist. We meet music and media insiders such as Motor City producers Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore who discovered Rodriguez in the late 1960s in a local bar and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant as well as longtime Detroiters and Rodriguez’s three daughters. “They put me on the map,” says Rodriguez of his kids.

Rodriguez performed recently in Hollywood; I met him after the show.

Shot by Camilla Skagerström with a Sony EX1, Super 8 and a Super 8 iPhone app and punctuated with animation, the film perfectly captures atmosphere: follow-the-money, investigative tension in sunny Cape Town contrasted with the grittily poetic qualities of Detroit – a nightscape pregnant with thunder and rain; slow, careful footsteps over snow-and-ice encrusted streets in a desolate city; neon signs lighting up bars like the Sewer and in-store posters announcing “We accept food stamps.”

And Bendjelloul precisely renders his subject, showing us Rodriguez’ prophetic but elusive spirit and letting us hear the voice – plaintive, searing and soulful – that’s as capable of inspiration today as it was 40 years ago.

“Searching for Sugar Man” opens Friday in New York and LA. The soundtrack is available at: http://myplay.me/u3e.

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‘Searching for Sugar Man’ blends music and mystery

The highlight of my week was seeing ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ a doc about Rodriguez, a Detroit-born singer-songwriter of the ’70s. Virtually unknown in the U.S., he had a huge following in South Africa. But even his foreign fans, young Afrikaners who rebelled against Apartheid, knew very little about this mysterious artist, including whether he lived past the ’70s.

The soundtrack is available July 24; the movie, by Swedish first-time director Malik Bendjelloul, is out in New York and LA on July 27, with more cities to follow. Don’t miss it – it’s an amazing film! (I’ll be running a review closer to the release date.)

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