Sundance 2021: The Sparks Brothers – Review

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Fans of Edgar Wright will know how integral music is to his filmmaking process. So it comes as no surprise that his first documentary would be set in the world of pop music. The Sparks Brothers takes an affectionate look at the career of Ron & Russell Mael and the spark that has kept that fire burning for 54 years.

During Sundance Film Festival, Wright tweeted that following a Sparks gig in 2017, he remarked to a friend that “the only thing stopping Sparks from being as big as they deserve to be was an overview, a documentary about them“.

Similar to Spike Lee’s David Byrne’s American Utopia, this film will satisfy die-hard fans whilst also creating new ones. The audience needs no prior knowledge of the band to be intrigued and entertained by their story. They may also be surprised to discover they know more Sparks songs than they realised such as ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us‘.

Wright goes back to the very start. Side 1, track 1. Charting the history of the group through a heady mix of archive footage, music videos and talking heads. Not only does he speak candidly with Ron and Russell but he leaves no stone or interviewee unturned to deliver the definitive tribute. Resulting in vox pops from former bandmates, crew, managers and fans.

The comprehensiveness does come at a cost however. A 135 minute runtime. The pacing doesn’t drag but it does feel like an album that could have cut a track or two to become an instant classic. Also either a conscious decision or perhaps because the documentary format doesn’t lend itself to it but Wright’s trademark visual style is missing. No jump cuts, quick edits or fancy cinematography.

Instead there is the tantilising thought of what Edgar could do unleashed on a concert film of a Sparks gig. That is something worth seeing Wright Here, Wright Now.

What this film does have however is lots of passion and affection for its subject. The Boss sang “You can’t start a fire without a spark”. The Sparks Brothers is likely to start that fire for a new generation of fans thanks to Edgar Wright.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Russell Mael, Ron Mael
Runtime: 135 minutes
Country: UK

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