Film notes: Mysteries of Identity

I recently watched two films centered around missing persons, or rather one person presumed missing and the other presumed dead, but neither presumption seems to be correct. In fact, the opposite is true.

Searching for Sugar Man is the amazing story of an American singer songwriter from the early seventies named Rodriguez who was a total flop in the US, but, unbeknownst to him and everyone else in America, he was a huge success in, of all places, apartheid South Africa, where he was popularized through an underground tape exchange and rumoured to have died in some tremendous suicide event on stage. Bigger than Elvis, bigger than the Rolling Stones, and he never knew it, until someone thought to try and find out whatever happened to him. Turns out he was alive and kicking all that time, working construction in Detroit and raising three daughters. Truly an amazing story, and an interesting musician as well, a curious mix of Dylan, Neil Diamond and Jose Feliciano. His personality is the greatest feature of the film. You want to know this guy.

The Imposter is also a true story, about a professional imposter who pretends to be a missing American teenager. He is (for some reason) welcomed by that family though he is much older than the boy would have been, speaks with a French accent, has brown eyes instead of blue, and so on. The question on both sides is “why”, and the answers are both vague and intriguing all around.

We are always intrigued by mysteries of identity, and maybe it’s partly because we all of us wonder what it would be like to be someone else, and we also know that who we actually are is both heavily determined and random at the same time, determined because of genetics, and random that we happen to be born when and where we are.  We know that, like Dawkins says, if we were born in Afghanistan we would likely be Muslim, and if we were born in Arkansas we’d likely be Christian, yet everyone believes in the religion they believe in, regardless of this astoundingly self-evident truth, and the same is true for many other personality factors, economic and social possibilities, and so on.  We are – fundamentally, as creatures – the products of billions of unlikely accidents. Why not then? Why not anything then? In these two films, we are presented with wildly different possibilities of identity, but we can imagine ourselves occupying those places, those lives, it’s what great stories are made of, from truths that are almost always stranger than fiction.


p.s. Wikipedia points out this huge descrepancy about the Sugar Man movie:


Numerous reviews have pointed out the inaccuracies in the documentary, with Rodriguez being a huge star in Australia and New Zealand. He toured regularly and went five times platinum at a time when, according to the documentary, the trail was cold. He toured Australia in 1979, 1981, 2007, with the Mark Gillespie Band and Midnight Oil, and for the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival. [6]

I guess I’m a sucker with the rest of them.


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