"...the most engrossing music documentary I have seen in years..."

A Marvelously Entertaining Documentary

(070221) I have been aware of the band Sparks for some time, and although I like some of their songs, I was never a great fan of theirs. So, I walked into the recent preview screening of The Sparks Brothers (which is about the quirky musical duo more loved by critics than the general public), with minimal expectations. But the film was far better than I expected, and it made me a total Sparks convert. This is by far the most engrossing music doc I have seen in years (I admit I have not seen the recent Spike Lee directed David Byrne film) and the film is so unique, well made, and outstanding that I would even recommend it to people who dislike the band or have little interest in them. It is that good.

The director, Edgar Wright made the most of the material and elevates a fascinating story of a band with many ups and downs with his effective use of stop motion animation, offbeat humor, 2 D animation, black and white footage, and extensive celebrity interviews. Wright uses lots of jump cuts which characterized the new wave films that both Wright and the Sparks brothers loved. Previously Wright made a series of hysterical and well received genre bending comedies including 2004’s Shaun of the Dead (about zombies), 2007’s Hot Fuzz (about police pursuing a serial killer), and 2013’s
The World's End (about aliens). The Sparks Brothers’ subject might be even weirder than the ones in his previous efforts.

Wright’s last and most conventional film, Drive (2019) may have been his best, but it was greatly underappreciated even though it made some top 10 films of the year lists. This is probably because it came out around the time that a scandal broke out involving one of its stars, Kevin Spacey.

The subject of his new film is Sparks, an odd arty musical duo made up of two brothers: a showman with matinee idol good looks plus a shockingly high falsetto and an eccentric tech wizard/keyboard player/song writer who sports a mustache reminiscent of either Chaplin or Hitler. The pair are naturally interesting onscreen, and they have the same quirky humor in person that they display in their song lyrics. Remember how Clash were referred to as “the only band that matters?” Well Sparks fans frequently call them, “the best band you’ve never heard of.”

The band is much bigger in Europe (most are surprised they were from California because they seem so European), but they are extremely obscure in the US with a devoted small cult audience. They have been around since 1969 (although they did not start getting noticed much until 1972), and they have flourished releasing 25 albums, 345 songs, and playing countless concerts. Part of the reason for their lack of success in the US might be that they constantly change styles, and they are hard to get a handle on.

They started off as an arty glam band and morphed into doing 40’s big band stuff , 80s style electronica, chamber pop, and even disco. Sometimes the group sounds far closer to a classical music combo than a rock’n roll band. Despite their unpredictability the group seems to have inspired dozens of musicians (almost all more popular than them), and the film includes testimonials from people they influenced such as Beck, Flea of the Red-Hot Chili Peppers, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Bjork, Weird Al Yankovic, and several ex-Duran Duran members. Paul McCartney himself proclaims he was influenced by Sparks and partially paid them back by parodying Ron Mael (even sporting a similar mustache) in his Coming Up video.

The film also shows interview clips of their prestigious collaborators including Todd Rundren (who produced them early on and, in a sense, discovered them) and German producer, Giorgio Moroder (who helped them produce a huge but odd disco hit in the 80s.)

The film also contains a generous amount of concert footage which is often weirdly exciting such as an early appearance on American Bandstand, and the lively TV debut of one of their biggest singles (This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us) on England’s Top of the Pops. Also, the film shows part of an infectious video of Cool World, a collaboration between Sparks and the Go-Gos member, Jane Weidlin (she admits she had a longtime crush on Russell and the two had a brief affair.)

Also, the The Sparks Brothers covers their previous failed attempts to break into film. The band was all set to work with the great French comedy director, Jacques Tati, but the project never came together. Later on, Tim Burton (who is a fan of the band) was going to have them score a film version of the manga, Mai, the Psychic Girl, but after the brothers put five years into the project, it was abruptly abandoned. The band did manage to do a cameo in a mediocre disaster film, Rollercoaster (believe it or not) substituting for the band, Kiss.

But the third time may prove to be the charm. Sparks recently collaborated with the great French director Leos Carax (one of the most highly regarded Avant Garde film makers in Europe) on Annette, which is based on an original story by the band and is full of their songs. It stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and had the coveted opening film position in the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and is one of the most anticipated films of the year. It is set to get a limited release in the US starting on August 20. Personally, I cannot wait.

Hopefully, the film will get some well-deserved attention which will help elevate the band’s profile ( I was shocked that the film actually ran in Orland and Oak Brook). Few groups have had a more exciting story, and the film is marvelously entertaining. It has been a long time since a music doc taught me so much about subject or has given me so much enduring pleasure.

Oh, and I would have to say that Edgar Wright is one of the most promising directors around. Frankly, I cannot wait to see what crazy project he cooks up next.

Directed & Written by:    Edgar Wright
Starring:    Russell & Ron Mael, Jane Weiland, Payton Oswald
Released:    061821
Length:    140 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for language
Available on:    At press time film is playing at some local theatres
 and it is streaming on

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

THE SPARKS BROTHERS © 2021 Focus Features
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.



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