Edgar Wrights guides us down the highly influential, yet criminally underlooked career of the band Sparks in The Sparks Brothers. Described as “the best British group to come out of America,” Sparks was formed in 1967 Los Angeles, under the original name HalfNelson, lead by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Over the course of their five-decade-long career, Sparks would adopt different musical styles and band line-ups, occasionally generating the odd hit such as 1974's “This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us,” 1979's “The Number One Song in Heaven,” and 1994's “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way.” However, despite gaining a cult following and success in Europe, Sparks remained a relatively obscure band in the United States.
Making his foray into documentary filmmaking, Edgar Wright goes all-in with telling the story of the band Sparks. Tipping the scales somewhat with a 2h20m running time, The Sparks Brothers covers the many ups and downs of Sparks career. While Sparks would change their sound to match the times, the constant always remained Russell Mael's melodic vocals and Ron Mael's odd stage presence, as the Hitler mustache-sporting keyboardist. With a musical repertoire ranging from rock to synthpop, Sparks would end up being influential on countless bands; even if they did not know it.
The Sparks Brothers is a documentary that tries to be both educational for newcomers to the band, while also appealing to their cult fanbase. Edgar Wright takes an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach in telling Sparks' five-decades long story and The Sparks Brothers can be viewed by some as too long for a documentary. However, the film also demonstrates how prominent, if not obscure, Sparks were over the decades, making them an essential part of the ecosystem of music.
The Sparks Brothers is streaming as part of the 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival
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