Sundance 2012: On the trail of a mysterious star, Rodriguez

Detroit birthed an amazing wealth of musical talent from the late 1950s to the early ’70s — Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, to name two. But the story of a stillborn talent — that of an enigmatic Mexican American folk singer known simply as Rodriguez — may be the most fantastic ever to come out of the Motown era.

On Thursday night, Rodriguez’s story — captured in the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” — left the audience at the movie’s premiere at Sundance Film Festival enthralled, with one man in the fourth row proclaiming the film “the best Sundance movie I’ve ever seen.” Although the viewer didn’t elaborate on just how many Sundance movies he’d ever seen, it was clear that “Sugar Man” was much more of a crowd pleaser than the less-than-full house at the Library Theater in Park City, Utah, had expected.

Born to Mexican immgrant parents in the early 1940s in Detroit, Rodriguez combined the inner-city soul of Motown singers with a Bob Dylan-like flair for songwriting, the gentle demeanor of a poet, and a suave sex appeal that brings Jimi Hendrix to mind. He played bars around the Motor City in the late 1960s, and cut two records that were critically well received but failed to sell.

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