Searching for Sugar Man

    [Originally published in GeneseeSun.com]
    Bigger than Elvis – on the other side of the world

    Rodriguez, “Searching for Sugar Man”

    I have a major fetish for really great songwriters.  Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Jacques Brel, Stephen Sondheim, for starters … the list is exclusive, but it’s not terribly short.  I consider myself to be something of a scholar in this area, or at least a really serious connoisseur.  So I’m baffled and somewhat embarrassed to admit that, prior to this week, and prior to seeing the film I first heard about on David Dye’s NPR radio show World Café, I had never heard of Rodriguez.

    A powerfully evocative singer/songwriter active in the early 1970s, little-known in America, Rodriguez is the subject of the wonderful 2012 Swedish/British documentary directed by Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugar Man.  Rodriguez appeared in Detroit in the late sixties, circulated on the music scene briefly, released two albums to the high expectations of his label and his producers, and then vanished.  Actually that’s not quite correct.  He couldn’t vanish, because as far as industry bean counters were concerned, he never even appeared.  According to the producers of the albums, who are interviewed in the film, here in the U.S. the LPs were each met with positive critical response but a deafening silence commercially.  Nothing.  And thus would have ended the tale – except that for some deeply karmic reason, at exactly that moment Rodriguez became, in South Africa at least, bigger than Elvis.  Seriously.
    [Read more...]



    [Originally published in GeneseeSun.com]
    The CIA does Hollywood

    Ben Affleck, “Argo”

    Argo, the current film directed by and starring Ben Affleck about the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis, addresses one of the two massive foreign policy debacles of late 20th century, the other being the Vietnam War.  Both episodes have their roots in the same murky cold-war era; and at this point, both are vivid examples of collective amnesia, and a virtually complete re-writing of American history.  A significant part of that mind-wash happens in the cinema, sometimes with amazing rapidity.  It takes less and less time for films about a war to appear after the war ends.  Of course, these days wars don’t actually end, so the brainwash actually starts during the war, if not before it, which makes the cinema’s role as a propaganda machine all the more obvious. [Read more...]



    [Originally published in GeneseeSun.com]
    The rich are people too! Who knew?

    Brit Marling and Richard Gere, “Arbitrage”

    Movies with a Wall Street theme are fairly common, with examples running from the arguably serious Wall Street and The Bonfire of the Vanities to the “Prince-and-the-Pauper” themed comedy, Trading Places. There seems to be a recent flurry, however, with entries including last year’s somewhat mystifying Margin Call and, circulating in some theaters now, Arbitrage, the Nicholas Jarecki film starring Richard Gere.

    The latter two films make an interesting contrast. Margin Call, released at the height of the Occupy protests, featured a solid ensemble cast headed by Kevin Spacey. It addressed the 2008 collapse of the global financial system by dramatizing a single night’s events in an investment banking firm on the eve of the crash’s public debut.   The film was never clear about what actually happens financially, and seemed to be a fictional mash-up of two or three major notorious episodes, the main one being a little-known event in Paris in 2008 where one firm unloaded a boatload of bad assets on an unsuspecting market in an extraordinarily short time, attempting to be the first rat off the ship.
    [Read more...]