Friday, June 18

The Sparks Brothers Review

The Sparks Brothers

Dir: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ron Mael and Russell Mael

2h 15m


It was at my local record store that I first discovered the band Sparks. A funky combination of synth-centric keyboards, a pulsing drum beat, and the lyric "pulling rabbits out of a hat" sung with passion played on the house speakers. When I asked the clerk who was playing, they pointed towards an album cover featuring a slicked-haired, pencil mustached man holding a puppet in his hand. The music was kinetic, with a moodiness that felt suited for any variety of 1980s movie soundtrack.  


On the album cover (1984's Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat) were Ron and Russell Mael, two brothers from America who formed the band Sparks in 1967. Spanning more than 50 years, through idiosyncratic rock, pop, electro, and avant-garde motifs and characterizations, the Sparks have garnered hefty cult status. They have influenced more than their fair share of artists, bands, and, in the case of the new documentary The Spark Brothers, filmmakers. 


Edgar Wright, the skillful director behind Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver, among others, understands how to choreograph music to influence and engage storytelling. So Wright feels like the perfect artist to tell the tale of the Sparks Brothers. This documentary is packed with information, running 2 hours and 15 minutes. First, Wright details the brother's career with an album by album analysis, displaying the Sparks as clever musicians who have an unorthodox charm and humor and operate to the beat of their own drum. It's an energetic documentary that seldom feels as long as its running time. 


The documentary features a variety of interviews from artists singing the praises of the band. Musicians like Beck, Weird Al, and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers show up, but also unexpected influenced artists like author Neil Gaiman, actor Mike Myers, and comedian Patton Oswalt make appearances to show their gratitude. Throughout the decades, the progression of their music composed a sound that always felt a few steps ahead of their counterparts. In addition, their character as rock stars, with Russell Mael crafting the atypical stoic rock star gaze and Ron Mael contrasting with his Chaplin/Hitler-inspired mustache and smirking look, displays that Sparks forged their creative path.


Wright emphasizes the musician's engagement with their music primarily, not necessarily why the two brothers compose their character in such unique ways. It's almost always about the music. Sparks' story isn't imbued with the typical sex and drugs that almost always define the rock & roll lifestyle, so the documentary doesn't have the traditional rise to success and eventual fall to defeat storyline. Instead, it maintains a strong emphasis on the celebration of music. 


Edgar Wright is the perfect collaborator to tell the story about Sparks. With his first documentary, the director interjects the film with the same energy the band brings in their music. The verve and mood are achieved through the edit, the unique and different quality is the structure of storytelling, and the love for the music is heartfeltly found in every interview and clip; a perfect match for director and band indeed. 


Monte's Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

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