The Sparks Brothers

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Early on in Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers (2021) someone says something like “Sparks is a band whose wikipedia article you could read and still know nothing about them”. Ironically the same is basically true of Wright’s film. As a long time devotee of Sparks I enjoyed the older footage of Ron and Russell Mael a lot, but what I really liked about The Sparks Brothers is that it’s drawing a large number of new fans to this wonderfully unique music.

The main issue I had with Wright’s film is that he stuffs it with talking heads, many of whom are just celebrity fans, and then he cut it so that they all keep repeating the same things. So one gets treated to someone like Jason Schwartzman’s thoughts on why Sparks is so keen at the cost of getting to hear more details from someone like Todd Rundgren or Giorgio Moroder about recording with Sparks in the studio. It’s a trade off that might only work if one is coming into The Sparks Brothers without knowing anything about them.

This seems to be a mistake a number of career spanning biographical documentaries make. The filmmakers get so caught up in the achievements of their subjects that the little things that brought about those achievements go unacknowledged. The intimate truth about a subject is always best illustrated and conveyed in the form of little asides; anecdotes about the time so and so did this nutty thing at what’s her name’s shindig.

The technique isn’t bad though. The use of older footage is pretty exhaustive and reveals just what a big fan Wright is of Sparks. This is the real strength of the film if one excludes considering the soundtrack. The use of different kinds of animation, though used sparingly, kept things feeling fresh and energized. Part of me does wish that this film had just been the Mael brothers reminiscing in voice over while all these great old clips played.