Movie Review: The Sparks Brothers



A few years ago, I noticed two odd-looking men appearing on the Instagram posts of Edgar Wright, the maestro of movement and kinetic comedy behind films such as Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the world, and Baby Driver. A man was a thin doppelgänger scarecrow of Vincent Pryce. Meanwhile, the other was just a little less thin, but sported an unusual combo of dyed black emo hair and fancy silk scarves. The legends made it clear to me that these two were brothers, and that they were the core and founding members of a band I had never heard of: Sparks.

Months went by, more and more Instagram posts came and went, but Sparks stuck in my head. Who were these two men? What were their life stories? And why did one of my favorite contemporary directors make a film about them – his first documentary no less? Wikipedia and Spotify searches only brought up more questions.

Ron and Russel Mael were American-born musicians who have been prolific in the music scene since the 1960s. Having worked in both the US and UK, their music at first glance sounded both foreign and familiar. I was able to spot the origins of some of my favorite British alternative bands (New Order, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, who all make homage-laden appearances in The Sparks Brothers), and it further increased my curiosity about Sparks. By the times trailers abandoned for The Sparks Brothers, I knew this was the film that would bring me back to the cinema after the last confinement.

Fast forward to a screening on Tuesday at 10 p.m. in an almost completely empty room. After two and a half hours of being bombarded with a history lesson on the discography and artistic careers of the titular brothers, my father and I stepped out of our seats delighted.

The Mael Brothers radiate love for creation in all aspects of their depicted life. Not only have they been making music since the late 60s, but they’ve challenged themselves and reinvented themselves throughout that time.

I would say their overall sound falls somewhere between arrangement-heavy pop and idea-driven alternative, but such an explanation grossly simplifies the craziness of Sparks’ 25 albums. discography. Wild vocal melodies of Kimono my house to the geometric instrumental arrangements of Little Beethoven, Sparks’ works surprise, amaze and excite avid listeners who are ready to meet the demands of such a vast work.

Although critical and commercial successes have been small and rare, Sparks has continued to do what they love. On top of that, they accomplished this without ever losing the drive and passion that drove them to be musicians in the first place. The spirit and love of Sparks permeates this film as much as their own songs; from animated segments to verbal jabs to the playful way of song titles presented with dictionary definitions of some of the words they contain, the film continues to find ways to bring the Mael Brothers’ musical originality to the big screen. .

Wright is clearly in love with his subjects, but a few years of Instagram posts show that this affection stems from knowing them as people after being a fan of their music since his own childhood. Additionally, while the film sheds light on Sparks ‘musical career, it doesn’t reveal much about the Mael Brothers’ personal lives other than delving into their childhood. In a way, this is the movie that says Sparks’ personal self is best expressed and understood through his music. Considering that they have spent most of their lives as musicians, I find this idea quite compelling.

Although sometimes The Spark brothers looks like a crash course in the creative production of two non-traditional pop musicians, the film still manages to be an entertaining and informative introduction to two truly inspiring artists. While Wright’s documentary filmmaking techniques leave much to be desired in terms of engagement and good structure, his curation of the Sparks tracks played throughout the film at least offers a formidable entry into their discography. Between this documentary giving them a well-deserved critical legitimacy, and the next opening film of the Cannes film festival Annette written and marked by them, 2021 could very well be the year Sparks sets the art world on fire.


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