The Sparks Brothers
Director: Edgar Wright
Features: Ron Mael, Russell Mael
Edgar Wright’s affectionate overview of the much-loved dizzyingly eclectic and eccentric art pop band Sparks’ fifty-year career and twenty-five album output is exhaustive and a little exhausting at 135 minutes.
It runs chronologically as the amusingly wry and self-deprecating Mael brothers, Russell of the flamboyance stage presence and falsetto, and musician/songwriter and Hitler/Chaplin lookalike Ron, talk us through their career, from their early days in their native LA, their massive UK breakthrough with ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ single and accompanying hit album ‘Kimono My House’, and subsequent roller coasterish assent and descents. Captured in tasteful monochrome a gallery of over eighty (!) talking heads, including celebrity fans (Beck, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt), band members, and producers (Todd Rundgren, Tony Visconti, Giorgio Moroder) pitch in with their observations.
A bit repetitive in its hagiographic approach, but there are some fascinating morsels here, like when the movie-obsessed brothers talk about their ill-fated attempts to enter the film world, with an abandoned project with Jacques Tati, and later a Manga musical set to be directed by Tim Burton that they worked on for three years only for Burton to pull out, much to their disappointment. Happily, their musical collaboration with French director Leos Carax ‘Annette’ has just debuted in Cannes.
Alongside some excellent archive footage from concerts and various TV appearances, Wright’s visual flourishes range from the inspired, with Claymation recreations of scenes from the band’s life, to the insistently wacky and fussily literal, such as when Ron talks of their fears about becoming dinosaurs after punk landed and the director cuts to a kitsch clip from ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’.
Wright’s insistence on giving the more or less the same attention to their more fallow periods as their imperial phases means the film goes on a bit longer than it should and may lose some casual viewers along the way. Still, it’s a rollicking tale and worthy tribute to genuinely uncompromising artists.
Sparks Brothers is released on 29th July
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm