There’s often a sense of nostalgia, awe, love, respect and intrigue that goes into watching a music documentary. It’s learning about an artist we idolise, how they affected us upon that first listen, and a further understanding of their music. When it comes to The Sparks Brothers, those are indeed all sentiments adhered to, but, if you’re like myself (as I suspect many will be), you’ll go into Edgar Wright‘s incredibly joyful project not really knowing who the subject matter are – and, honestly, that’s what is expected.
Noted as “your favourite band’s favourite band”, Sparks – comprised of the Mael brothers, Russell (the charismatic lead singer) and Ron (the Charlie Chaplin/Adolf Hitler-like instrumentalist) – have been active since the late 1960’s and, to this day, are still releasing music that incorporates their sometimes mischievous, sometimes sardonic lyrics with a glam rock/synth sound that has often put them ahead of the musical curve; they were essentially Duran Duran and The Cure before those acts even existed.
Despite their sound and aesthetic leaning into a more European sensibility, the Maels are born and bred Californians, and the film touches on this note that many casual fans weren’t aware of their American heritage, assuming their style of music was in direct linkage to their supposed European roots. And even when they started to earn success in their home state, their sound never wavered from Russell and Ron’s own authenticity; as much as the music they released altered from each album, they never chased trends or sold out.
Given the incredibly varied career achievements and mishaps Sparks have experienced over their five decade-strong span, it only makes sense that the film’s aesthetic mirror such wild procurements. Director Wright, whose own narrative-driven films have often been heavily influenced by music (see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver for prime examples), injects a reverence and glee into the visuals throughout; with the lush black-and-white colourisation of the talking heads segments (including, but not limited to, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea, alt-rock musician Beck, and actor Mike Myers) offsetting the archival footage of their “Top of the Pops” performances and appearance in the cult horror film Rollercoaster throughout; sporadic uses of animated “re-enactments” also add a touch of signature Wright flair.
With 25 albums under their belt to date, and, as they state, no intention to stop any time soon, Sparks are truly lovers of their craft. Their dedication to their sound is paralleled in Wright’s clear affection for an under-appreciated act that should hopefully find a legion of new recognition following this film, undoubtedly one of the greatest music documentaries to ever be created.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Sparks Brothers is currently screening in select Australian theatres*
*Hobart State Cinema, Palace Nova East End, Adelaide, Dendy Canberra, Luna Leederville, Perth, Palace James Street, Brisbane.