Film reviews: Searching for Sugar Man | Berberian Sound Studio

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IF YOU’VE never heard of the American folk artist Rodriguez don’t worry: nobody really has – and that’s the point (and one of the chief pleasures) of this documentary investigation into his legend.

Searching for Sugar Man

StudioCanal, £17.99

Discovered in a Detroit folk club in the late 1960s by a pair of producers who thought they might have the next Bob Dylan on their hands, this troubadour released two flop albums before disappearing from the public eye. And forgotten he might have remained had a twist of fate not resulted in his music finding its way to South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s where it effectively went viral and became the soundtrack for a generation of middle-class Afrikaners who took to the streets to protest Apartheid.

With limited pop culture awareness, these fans just assumed Rodriguez was as big in the rest of the world as he was in South Africa and this, combined with an absence of information about the man behind the music, resulted in rumours that he’d committed suicide on stage. The film picks up the quest of two fans as they set out to find out how he really died. What they unearth, however, is a bizarre story, one that is more mundane than the legend but more magical as a result.

Berberian Sound Studio

Artificial Eye, £15.99

ON the subject of bizarre stories, there’s probably no stranger film around this year than Berberian Sound Studio. That’s no bad thing, though. Riffing on the kind of gruesome Italian horror movies popularized by cult auteurs such as Dario Argento (Suspiria) and Lucio Fulci (Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), Brit director Peter Strickland’s oddball second feature is a rigorous examination of disintegrating psyches and strange cultural misunderstandings, as well as being an almost fetishistic celebration of the weird alchemy of movie making itself.

Revolving around a British sound engineer (Toby Jones) working on a cash-strapped 1970s Italian witchcraft movie at the titular post-production house, the film creates a pleasing atmosphere of dread as Gilderoy (Jones) arrives in Italy and begins confronting his deepest, darkest fears. Here, Strickland teases out the psychological tension by homing in on the sound cues Gilderoy has been hired to create without ever letting us see the visuals we assume they’re accompanying. The effect is extremely disconcerting – and reveals the magic of movies to be something of a black art.

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