What do you get when Edgar Wright - the man behind some of the most iconic movies of the last decade or so - gets together with the cult band Sparks to document their career? The answer simply is a stunning, revelatory film that appeals to both the group’s fan base and acts as an introduction to the band you likely thought a one-hit-wonder. If you hear the hypnotising keyboard intro to This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and wonder ‘who sung that?’, then now’s your chance to find out everything.
Told by the Mael brothers - Ron (the stolid-looking synth player) and Russell (the flamboyant, falsetto vocalist) - themselves, the film is both deeply personal and inviting. The band, as are all the talking head commentators, are shot in black in white, which contrasts wonderfully with the often colourful archive footage. The other interviewees range from those who worked with the band, were in the band at one point, and high profile fans. The artists giving kudos are as diverse as Beck, Patten Oswald, Neil Gaiman, and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones (who is the first to remark that Ron looked like “Hitler playing the keyboard”). Anecdotes are accompanied by simple animations and the movie is bookended with cool stop-motion recreations of the brothers.
The Sparks story is as full of highs and lows as any band, with the exception that no matter how bad things got for them in the fickle pop world, they always came back fighting with new material and a fresher sound, even if that sound was several years too early to make any impact. With 25 albums, the band don’t rely on their heritage to keep their audience engaged. Even this year, they have another film to be released, Annette, directed by Leos Carax (Holy Motors) and written by Ron and Russell (who, naturally, also provide the soundtrack). It’s this constant forward momentum that makes the band such a rewarding listen, and this is clearly represented in Wright’s documentary. The director is undoubtedly a fan, but he makes sure the movie has more than enough visual flourishes to keep non-Sparks fans involved.
If you weren’t a Sparks fan before spending well over two hours with the Maels, their history, and musical output, then we guarantee you will be afterwards. Like 2018’s Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story, The Sparks Brothers paints a portrait of cult performers and makes their story accessible and completely engaging.
The Sparks Brothers has its UK premiere at Sundance Film Festival: London on July 29th and is in cinemas everywhere on July 30th.