‘The Sparks Brothers’ is Edgar Wright’s director of such films as ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ initial leap into documentary filmmaking. But, after watching, I have to wonder what took him so long to venture into the genre.
Here, Wright uses old unseen clips of the brothers, several types of clever animation, interviews with the subjects and interviews with the people inspired by them to tell the story of this pop and rock duo, Ron and Russell Mael. The two are some of the most peculiar yet legendary pop in the business. The interviews were well done and thorough, offering a great deal of information on the men to help you better understand who they are and where they developed their style. The people spoken to are people well respected and admired in their fields. Their opinions are trusted.
A quick note… you may have never heard of the Sparks, so you may be tempted to believe that it’s best to pass on watching a documentary about them. Don’t make this mistake; for a mistake, it would be.
Ron and Russell, better known as the Sparks brothers, are remarkable and you can’t miss this in-depth look into their lives. These musicians have not only been around for decades but have influenced just about everyone in the music business since their formation. Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit there, but they have motivated many a musician to believe in themselves and to never give up on their dreams. More on who those particular artists are, coming up.
The most baffling thing I learned while watching this documentary was how many people in the United States have never heard of the Mael’s, save those who are more aware of the underground music scene, especially when it comes to popular or ‘Pop’ music. There are a few possible reasons why these talents have been overlooked. Radio stations judging whether or not their listening audience will be fond of the music from a particular musician or band is universally based on the wrong things. Myself, I would have loved Sparks and been a fan of their work a lot earlier had I been exposed. Regrettably, I was never given that opportunity because stations assumed I wouldn’t have liked them for the simple fact that they were a little too off-the-wall. This may have been true for the station itself but may not have been the case for their listeners who had more open minds.
Also, the brothers went through many name changes before landing on just ‘Sparks.’ This may have confused people throughout the years. In the days before the internet, fans could have lost touch with the band they found so unique.
Additionally, the Sparks took other unconventional steps that may have hurt them. They often changed their style. They recreated their personal, as well as their rhythmic and melodic techniques, many times over the years.
They changed their looks and switched members of their band almost as often as they changed their underwear. Instead of being held against them, these uncommon transformations should have been applauded as intelligent, innovative, and brave. They kept evolving while staying true to who they were. Those who treasured the Sparks for their imaginativeness have stuck by them since they first heard them play. In fact, some fans go as far back as 1967, when they were known as the ‘Urban Renewal Project.’ Many questions about the guys will be answered in the movie. The main question is, “how could these underappreciated artisans have a career that has lasted over fifty years yet still not be a household name?” Being around since 1967 is an impressive feat, especially when you consider that they had to fight every step of the way to get airtime in their own country. Shameful.
That being the case, they still managed to stay in the hearts of many. Wright refers to the Sparks as, ‘Your favorite band’s favorite band.’ He then interviews people such as Beck, Jane Wiedlin of the GoGo’s, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jason Schwartzman, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor of Duran Duran, Mike Myers, and even himself. Those speaking portray Ron and Russell as unparalleled artists who need to be discovered by the viewers of Wright’s film as soon as possible. We’re taken on their careers, decade by decade, from album one, ‘Halfnelson’ to their latest, ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, which was released in 2020. Wright also plays clips of his interviewees discussing the brother’s lyrics, which can be eccentric. He also plays us some of their songs. After the film, you’ll be adding these tunes to your playlist.
The Sparks were very well known in Britain, France and Germany, but not here in the United States. However, they do become more known due to always believing in their own work, persisting in getting their albums produced, and having a tremendous love and respect for one another. That mutual admiration they’ve had since childhood is displayed in many ways during the film. Being both earnest and amusing during their conversations with Wright, Ron and Russell, voicing their opinions of the other, is moving at times.
Speaking of which, keep watching for a hysterical middle credit scene.
Do not miss this.
One thing I feel I must point out is that the movie is about thirty minutes too long. But, nonetheless, in the two hours and fifteen minutes that it runs, you get a good look into who they are and whether or not you should get to know them better.
Admittedly, I had never heard of the Sparks, but I’m happy to have learned of them through this film now. Through watching this film, you will be too. With Wright’s work, you get to discover the brothers while they’re still working, instead of after they’ve retired or years after their death, before it’s too late to maybe get a chance to see them live. I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary and the music I’m now familiar with. I’ve already started going back to listen to everything I can.
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The Sparks Brothers
Director: Edgar Wright
Produced by: Nira Park, Edgar Wright, George Hencken, Laura Richardson
Stars: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Beck, Mike Myers, Jane Wiedlin, Flea, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor
Running Time: 2h 15m
Genres: Documentary, Music