(NOTE: This has been sitting in my draft folder for ages. I simply forgot to post it. Sorry)
The Sparks Brothers sees Edgar Wright doing something new, a documentary. As a longtime fan, he was itching to cover Sparks, a band that has released over 25 albums over their fifty-year career. But Wright’s obsession does not end there, for this film he has recruited a bevy of famous fans and the bands themselves, to talk about their prolific output, their music and how they have while influenced hundreds of artists around the world.
For more than For five decades, Sparks have generally enjoyed more commercial success in Europe than here at home. Adapting to the times at their own discretion, they have done everything, from glam rock, camp pop, to floor stomping disco, synthpop and art rock.
Like many subjects in Wright’s film, Ron and Russell Mael are not much to look at. Ron’s deadpan humor and curious mustache (part Hitler, part Chaplin) plays well against Russell’s spastic activity. They look weird but make great art. But the best part is, they are gloriously fun and odd.
Filmed in black and white and color, Wright shouts about their greatness from the highest mountaintop, deploying animation, stop motion, archival footage, interviews and testimonials from Neil Gaiman, Beck, Flea, Weird Al Yankovic, Tony Visconti, Giorgio Moroder, New Order and Mike Myers amongst others.
As a diehard fan, Wright is unwavering in pointing out how Ron and Russell’s longevity and resourcefulness impacted future artists. As he notes through interviews, behind their quirky veneer, Sparks are unafraid of being different. They have never accepted conformity. Endearingly energetic, their stubbornness, when paired with a relentless spirit of adventure, has led to their own reinvention several times over.
The documentary also illustrates that Sparks is a band that has experienced both sides of the musical coin. After years of being a ‘cult’ band they achieved some notoriety in American clubs in 1979 with their eighth record, the Giorgio Moroder produced Nº 1 in Heaven and again in 1983 when they had a Top 40 hit with Cool Places, a collaboration with Jane Wiedlin that got them on MTV and American Bandstand.
Wright is also quick to point out that heir audacity has been epic. From a failed collaboration with Tim Burton to their FFS project with Franz Ferdinand, and their musical, Annette (streaming now) Sparks have always sought to remain relevant.
Ironically, Sparks has always had their own renaissance. This success stems from Sparks’ ability to makes music that meshes melancholy, exuberance and silly commentaries on the contemporary without sounding outdated. As noted by Wright, this formula serves as connection for their multiple eras and various experiments.
Their career of innovation is visually underscored by Wright’s use of television clips, music videos and live performances. He also follows their trajectory chronologically, allowing audiences to move beyond Sparks’ vagueness about their private personas and appreciate their musical legacy.
Wright also sets aside the glowing praise of their famous fans and examines their catalog, paying key attention to several releases, including, Kimono My House, Propaganda, Big Beat, Angst In My Pants, In Outer Space, Music That You Can Dance To, Lil’ Beethoven, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, Balls, and last year’s A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. he also previews and their film, Annette, which opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
In addition to the standard rock band bio stuff, Wright also dips into moments of surreal fun as he follows the Maels to some of their favorite haunts as they get coffee, eat ice cream, and work in their private studio. The results of which are heartwarming and hilarious.
With The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright once again proves that he is a masterful storyteller. While his previous films have mixed drama, comedy and pathos with clever dialogue and snappy pacing, this one is just as compelling and fun.
A love letter to a band he loves, Wright treats the band with great reverence as he brings their career into a focused celebration of their musical mayhem and kooky brilliance. The film is streaming now and a DVD is coming. For more information on Sparks visit their website http://allsparks.com. The movie is streaming now. Sparks are also touring America in 2022.