June 18th, 2021
MOVIE: THE SPARKS BROTHERS
STARRING: RUSSEL MAEL, RON MAEL, BECK, MIKE MYERS
DIRECTED BY: EDGAR WRIGHT
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
There have been too many documentaries about music in 2021. Some self serve the artist (Pink: All I know So Far) and others genuinely get into the thick of a musician’s career (Moby Doc). And then there is The Sparks Brothers, a long lasting documentary about the 70’s-80’s rock band Sparks, led by brothers Russell and Ron Mael, creating music in their own unique and untouchable way. I knew absolutely nothing about the band Sparks, never had heard a song, and discovering them in Edgar Wright’s documentary was just the tip of the iceberg for the joy it brings. The Sparks Brothers has an infectious, in depth approach to the career of this eclectic band, and the final result is more than a spark, it’s a big glowing flame.
One of the fascinating statistics about the Sparks, might be how they’ve survived for over five decades. They’ve also managed to do it without being a major staple on the radio. Their lone mainstream hit “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” didn’t land in the United States, but as soon as they made a career shift to London, playing shows such as Top of the Pops, there began to be an audience for their unique style. What makes the style so unique? It’s a duo of brothers, with Russell commanding the stage with his falsetto vocals, set against music that rivals Duran Duran or Morrissey. And then you see Ron, often stoic in the corner, taping the piano keys, and instantly recognizable with his Charlie Chaplin mustache. Together they made an unstoppable catalog of music, which lives on their 24 albums, and is rightfully seeing a revival.
From a documentary structure standpoint, The Sparks Brothers is a discography style, where the collection of various artists take us through the Sparks entire career. It starts from their first album Sparks, their second album A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing– both produced by Todd Rundgren- and goes all the way to their recent work on 2020’s A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. It works so well because director Edgar Wright has just as much appreciation for the music as the other talking heads have to say. He’s gathered anyone and everyone that has loved their music, from Beck, to Mike Myers, Flea, and the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin. Wright shoots the interviews in a crisp black & white, while the footage of performances burst with color and light. It’s a bounce between classy and vibrant, which is sort of what Sparks music is.
There’s not many issues with The Sparks Brothers as a documentary because very few stones are unturned, from the bands difficult beginnings, finding their place in the world of music, and staying true to themselves. The length is a bit long at two hours and fifteen minutes and I admit that I wasn’t even a big fan of their sound. I’m not entirely alone, as Sparks had songs that made their way to the U.S. & U.K. Top 10, but never came close to number 1. It’s an acquired sound and to describe it would be eccentric electric pop, but it grows on you. As I am writing this review I am blasting the Sparks song “Tryouts For The Human Race” and it’s making my foot tap.
That’s above all why The Sparks Brothers is one of the best documentaries of 2021. Edgar Wright is educating us on music, opening the world’s eyes to a band that has not been given their just dues. There’s nothing else like it, but there is no band like this, led by two brothers, creating something entirely their own, and always pushing through with their melodic noise. The rest of the cinematic world will be introduced to the sound of Sparks in Leos Carax upcoming musical Annette, with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, but before that you should learn all things Sparks with this documentary. Your ears will thank me later.
THE SPARKS BROTHERS OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS ON JUNE 18TH
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady