Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 21 minutes, Director – Edgar Wright
Documentary looking at the career of Ron and Russell Mael, the minds behind the songs of Sparks.
In many interviews for the documentary of their careers Ron and Russell Mael, the titular Sparks Brothers, have claimed that the only person who could properly capture their style and music in a film is Edgar Wright. On seeing the 25 album spanning documentary it’s hard to argue with this. Throughout the intentionally pointed-out visual gags that introduce the literal window in the somewhat mysterious lives and workings of the central duo, and indeed the film as a whole, there’s a shared sense of humour and respect from director to band, and vice versa. Wright credits himself as a “fanboy” of Sparks, delving deep into their songs and discography throughout the almost two and a half hour course of the film. There’s a lot to get through within the diverse selection of albums and tracks that the film, and its various talking heads, gives time to.
Present is a true celebration of the way that Sparks never leaned into what was truly popular at the moment, they simply continued to do their own thing (while experimenting with certain forms and genres – often meaning that they were ahead of the curve). If they did create something for the mainstream it was self aware and jokey – a dance track called Music That You Can Dance To is a highlight amongst a soundtrack full of earworms. Whether you’re already aware of Sparks, or; as many viewers may be, completely unaware of them, there’s likely to be plenty of songs going around your head for days to come after watching the film. The infectious heart and spirit of the siblings (who undeniably look wonderful for their ages!) filling each one. Never do any songs or albums feel rushed or skipped over. The run-time certainly allows for Wright to give enough time to the creations of his subjects, capturing the passion that there is for them and what makes them so unique.
There’s a point made that there could be hidden meanings and points within each song, and this is pointed out through dictionary definitions provided for words in the titles, which appear in bold, towering letters. It pushes the idea of the elusive nature of the band – something which made them wary of having a documentary made about them for so many years. The brothers themselves, while looking back at their career and a number of their songs and interactions with various band members, continue to have an air of mystery around them. Lyrics are looked into and recited, and yet it’s not so much for analysis, more amusement and certain figures saying how much they enjoy certain lines, even if they don’t always make sense – or simply how certain figures have interpreted them themselves. And with such a range of personalities, ranging from the likes of Beck, New Order and Duran Duran to Mike Myers, Jonathan Ross, Adam Buxton and the legend that is ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, there are plenty of thoughts and opinions to hear. Yet, none are ever louder than others or appear to take precedence, while also not allowing the film to feel too busy.
With the interviews being shot in black and white, Wright allows for the brightly-coloured music videos, performances and brief animated segments to truly pop on the big screen. Further showing the imagination and creativity of the band. Bringing you further into their world, and perhaps even slightly their minds. It’s an interesting dive, and one that will certainly expand your playlist. Easing people in, no matter what their familiarity with Sparks is, for an entertaining, engaging and interesting look into who are described as “your favourite band’s favourite band”. All part of a documentary that celebrates identity and expression, both creatively and in life. Through a selection of unique songs, plenty of which were clearly ahead of their time, there’s plenty to enjoy about being in the company of Edgar Wright and the Sparks Brothers for this 141 minute ride.
There’s plenty to get through within The Sparks Brothers, and none of it fights for attention or space within this detailed and entertaining dive into a wholly creative band that, 50 years on, maintain their unique mystery.