The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of: The Sparks Brothers
Film: The Sparks Brothers
Director: Edgar Wright
Category: Feature – Documentary
Any band who influenced The Cure, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, The GoGos, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joy Division, Beck, Franz Ferdinand, Bjork, Nirvana, The Smiths and Morrissey, and countless others is a pretty big deal. Any band who can count Mike Meyers, Patton Oswalt, Neil Gaiman, Fred Armisen, Jason Schwartzman, and Edgar Wright as their fans has to be pretty well known. Except they’re not. Sparks is not well known even though they’ve spent 50 years making some of the most influential music in all of alternative and pop music history.
And therein lies the goal of Edgar Wright deciding to make a music documentary about the criminally underrated band, Sparks, and tell the story of brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Wright realized that it would probably be a lot faster to make a documentary about Sparks rather than telling every single person he meets about his love for the most underrated band in the industry. The Sparks Brothers is a the most fun a music documentary can have talking about some of the most mysterious and strangest people in music. This documentary is so in-depth and comprehensive, going from the Mael brothers’ childhood all the way through the last live show they played in Mexico City in 2018 (before they took and break then the pandemic hit a year later, keeping them from playing live shows last year). Getting a peek behind the current of a force like Sparks is an absolute joy.
This documentary greatly benefits from having the creativity and pacing of Wright’s well-trained hand as a director of hit films like Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver. This might be Wright’s first documentary, but you’d never know. The film features such a massive variety of talking heads from music and entertainment that have so much to say about Sparks and all the influence they’ve had in their career. Lucky for the film, Sparks also has decades of archival footage from interviews and performances. As for anything they didn’t have any footage of?
Some clever animation from stop-motion to claymation fills the space. Documentaries are always at risk of dragging a little bit, but not once does The Sparks Brothers ever lose your interest.
Sparks have a long career with so many highs and lows, but through it all Ron and Russell never gave it up. People didn’t get the music in the US? Sparks went to England and became the best British rock band from America. The music needed a new direction? Sparks worked with producer Giogio Morodor (made famous by Donna Summers’ hit song I Feel Love) to make 80’s synth pop in the late 70’s. Want to try something new? Sparks tried three times to make a film with their music, and finally succeeded with Annette starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard (scheduled to come out in the next year). Having a slow period and need to engineer and produce their own records? Sparks learned sound engineering and built their own studio.
Need to bring something to the live show? Sparks performed 21 of their albums live in 21 shows
in London in 2008. Want to reach a new audience? Sparks reached out to Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand and make the F.F.S album and found a massive new following with younger fans. There is not a single time, no matter how challenging, that Sparks has not given their all to keep doing what they love, and you get to see all of it in this documentary.
There are a thousand music documentaries out there that tell every musician’s story, but The Sparks Brothers is special. From the expert filmmaking by Edgar Wright and his creative and archival teams to such great talking heads like Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and comedian Mike Meyers to getting to hear Ron and Russell talk about their lives’ experiences, The Sparks Brothers has such a charm and joy to it. The second you can watch this film, watch it. By the end, like me, you’ll probably be a converted Sparks fan.
Review Score: 5/5 (Seriously, I watched it twice during the festival.)
Where Can You Watch: Edgar Wright and Sparks have said the film is coming soon, but have
Bonus content: Check out the Q&A with director Edgar Wright and The Sparks Brothers themselves, Ron and Russell Mael, on the Sundance Film Festival Youtube channel. Wright and Sparks have a real admiration for each other and this wonderful documentary they got to make, and you can feel the love in this Q&A. Watch here