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At the recommendation of a few different friends, Kristen and I recently rented Searching for Sugar Man. It’s the story of recording artist Sixto Rodriguez (known simply as Rodriguez), the best folk/rock singer you’ve never heard of. Rodriguez made two albums in the early 1970s, Cold Hard Fact and Coming from Reality, neither of which found an audience, and then he faded into oblivion. At least that’s what happened here in the U.S.

In South Africa however, unbeknownst to anyone connected with Rodriguez, the man had become a rock star on a par with Elvis Presley. His albums, which carried a strong anti-establishment message, helped fuel the soundtrack of the anti-Apartheid movement.

Beyond Rodriguez’s poetic and incendiary lyrics, South Africans also became infatuated with the legend of Rodriquez’s death. There were varied and conflicting reports about the manner in which he had died on stage, each more outrageous than the one that preceded it. This brilliant film follows a South African journalist and a South African record store owner as they try to unravel the mystery of Rodriguez. The beauty of this uplifting story of triumph, passion, and compassion, is not only what you’ll see on the celluloid, but what you’ll hear in the soundtrack. I pretty much guarantee that by the time the ending credits roll, you will be downloading something from Rodriquez on iTunes.

So, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, Searching for Sugar Man got me thinking; what are the best rockumentaries of all time. Here’s my short list:

The Filth and the Fury — Brilliant and gritty Julien Temple-directed documentary about the Sex Pistols, where surviving band members each tell their version of the band’s history. I love that the Pistol’s notorious (and allegedly crooked) manager Malcolm McLaren does his interviews in a bondage mask.

End of the Century — Any fan of the Ramones will love this. (And really, who’s not a fan of the Ramones. You? Really? No, that just can’t be true. You’re wrong. You are a Ramones fan. You just don’t know it. Watch End of the Century and you’ll see what I mean.)

Searching for Sugar Man — See above.

Gimme Shelter — Dark tale about the Rolling Stones appearance at the 1969 Altamont Free Music Festival at the Altamont Freeway, and how it all went terribly wrong. Captivating and a bit disturbing.

Athens, GA — I have a soft spot for this film, as I knew half the bands featured from my time in Athens. (I was there in 1985, this was made soon after.) This is a very homey movie and does a great job of capturing the Athens scene in the mid-80s.

Honorable Mention:

This Is Spinal Tap — Yeah, most rockumentary lists include Spinal Tap, but it’s not actually a rockumentary. It’s a mockumentary. Still, it’s more than funny, it’s genius.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains — This is neither a rockumentary or a mockumentary, just the best little rock and roll movie you’ve never heard of. An incredibly young Diane Lane runs away to be a rock star. The film features Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Paul Simonon, too. Click here for a good short documentary about the making of the film.

And here’s the film’s trailer:
[youtube width=”211″ height=”172″][/youtube]

So, what are your favorites?