Turns out pretty much every band you’ve ever loved in your life was influenced by California weirdo pop-rockers Sparks. OK, that’s a stretch, but if you’ve bumped any pop-rock record after 1974 (or any synth record after 1979), just know the purveyors of those albums were almost undoubtedly inspired by or otherwise indebted to Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael—and filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) is out to prove that with his first-ever documentary, The Sparks Brothers.
Following the notorious, mysterious and ever-evolving career of the brothers Mael becomes a veritable schooling on the who, what, where, when, why and how of the very trajectory of rock music, from the glam rock-meets-classical weirdness of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us,” to the Giorgio Moroder-produced No. 1 in Heaven and up through the band’s unexpectedly wonderful FFS project with Scottish post-rockers Franz Ferdinand in 2015 (and beyond). Through interviews with collaborators, former bandmates, current musical titans and actors, comics, singers, artists, etc., Wright tours it all—early sojourns to Beatles shows, elusive American success (and bonkers European adulation), coffee breaks, McCartney tributes and on and on and on...Seems no one who made or makes music since the mid-’70s didn’t have Sparks on their radar, and getting a documentary film while Ron and Russell are still alive feels both timely and vital.
They’re funny, you know, and this winds up being much of the point (which would obviously resonate with a filmmaker like Wright, what with his particular brand of wit)—that a band could take its work incredibly seriously while poking fun at everything possible, as does a career that spans five decades without ever selling out, corrupting or otherwise morphing into anything other than what its creators desired. That simply doesn’t happen often enough, if at all, and if you don’t know Sparks, you really should rectify that immediately.
Wright does veer into a sort of hero worship position rather than that of objective storyteller, and there are only so many times we can hear Beck or Jane Wiedlin or Todd Rundgren repeat how Sparks were ahead of their time or important to everyone or deliciously weird. Still, it’s hard not to fall in love and impossible not to bob one’s head along with 25 albums’ worth of jams.
Sparks remains cutting-edge and charismatically, pitch-perfectly captures hearts during their own appearances in The Sparks Brothers. A good music doc should leave one feeling at least mildly obsessed. With luck, Wright’s opus will finally give Sparks that kind of attention in America. As one of the talking heads says in the film, to those who come late to the party, the point is not to gatekeep, but to simply and warmly say welcome aboard.
+Wild and fun; lesser-known music history
-Repetetive at times; not particularly objective
The Sparks Brothers
Directed by Wright
Violet Crown, VoD, R, 140 min.
...And, for a treat, here’s the Paul McCartney video for “Coming Up” wherein he pays tribute to Ron Mael.