When I watched the trailer, I knew I wanted to watch the documentary just to discover who the Sparks Brothers, Aka Ron and Russell Mael, are and how I could have missed a band with this many records. The trailer presented a pair that were intriguing, humorous, and my favorite band’s favorite band. I discovered a band that has been around for fifty years with a catalogue of hundreds of songs. Not only are they one of the most influential bands of all time, frequently on the leading edge of musical evolution, but the film was one of the most engaging documentaries that I’ve ever watched.
The Sparks Brothers, directed by Edgar Wright, revolves around brothers Ron and Russell Mael, members of the pop and rock duo Sparks. The film takes a blend of news clips, interviews with various band members and individuals the brothers have worked with in the record industry, footage of performances and discussions with Ron and Russell. It quickly introduces us to the brother’s quirky sense of humor and individualistic approach to music and performance. Their unique style is only reinforced by the interviews with those that have worked with them as well as demonstrated in their performances. It also presents a band that has been influential to every style of music and multiple bands in the five decades that they’ve been performing, endlessly reinventing themselves and finding new ways to create music.
The core of the film is all about Sparks, the band created by Ron and Russell Mael. Described as the most English American band in existence, Ron and Russell were born in Las Palisades, California and began their music career in 1967 under the name Urban Renewal Project. They soon came to the attention of Todd Rundgren, changed the name to Sparks but didn’t have much commercial success in the United States. After relocating to England, they quickly became a hit in Europe. Evolving over the years, they moved back to America but their success as a band was up and down despite their earlier success. Despite their challenges, the pair consistently changed their style and music to create music that would go on to influence radio and multiple other bands, multiple genres including synth-pop, new wave, post-punk, and alternative music, influencing a wide range of singers and bands including Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Björk. It is clear in the film, that despite a lack of clear commercial success through the years, Sparks has been one of the forerunners of music through the last fifty years.
Since the core of the film is about the two brothers, Ron and Russell, their role in the movie is critical. In fact, it is due to their participation that makes this film so engaging. The pair are enormously funny, quirky, and incredibly charismatic. It is easy to see why they have achieved success over the years but it is also easy to see why audiences might not understand some of the underlying elements in their music of the outsider or satirical layers. After listening to both the music and the interviews, what intrigued me as a viewer was that element of satire, that they never are taking themselves too seriously but their music always has a story, a dialogue with audiences and I find that wonderfully compelling, both in the film and in their music.
The filmmakers do an amazing job blending interviews that highlight their career. While there are some personal elements, some observations on Ron and Russell’s personal life, the bulk of the film is about their music and band. It is interesting to note that despite changing band members throughout the years, not one person is resentful or angry. They all understand that music and art come first for the brothers. In fact, those interviews detail the progress of their music through the years, how close to success they’ve come, and the artistic decisions they’ve made over the years that worked and the ones that didn’t. The mix of interviews with footage from performances allows the viewer to get a taste of why they are successful, especially every time Ron Mael has hammed it up for the camera, his mustache a key element in the humor of their performances. Without that footage, you might be puzzled at the strength of their music and their career but it is easy to see how talented both brothers are and I especially love how much they collaborate with each other and the footage of their daily life.
The other aspect that the film does so well is allow the humorous side to bubble up and permeate interviews about Ron and Russell. While they themselves are incredibly funny, we also are treated to the humor in their music and interviewees that make jokes about the pair of brothers. It is absolutely astounding how well humor is mixed with the more serious artistic aspects of discussion about their work. Ron and Russell are magnetic, charming, and talented with little to no evidence either of them ages either. And it is clear from both the interviews with others and the footage that they are constantly changing, updating their style, and trying new ideas even when the world at large does not see the appeal of their work.
Even if you don’t know who Sparks Band are, I highly recommend this documentary. It is clear that these are your favorite band’s favorite band. And after watching, you will quickly see why and want to grab up all the music they have performed over the years. If you like humor, you will find them hilarious, satirical, and willing to speak up about a range of ideas that most musicians avoid. They were punk before punk was around and did synthetic music before it was popular. They are willing to fail to try new ideas but most of all, they are a band that has amazing talent with both performing and creating music. If you love music, you will love this film. I know I found it one of the most engaging and humorous documentaries I’ve ever watched. And am going to go look up their discography.
Rating: 5 out 5 mustaches.
The Sparks Brothers opens in theaters on Friday, June 18th, 2021.
Official Website: The Sparks Brothers | Official Website | June 18 2021