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THE SPARKS BROTHERS review by Taylor T. Carlson

THE SPARKS BROTHERS is directed by Edgar Wright. The film consists of a combination of new interviews and archival footage of the band Sparks.

The band Sparks began life in the late 60s/early 70s, and has remained active for half a century, with many different tonal shifts in terms of their music, always featuring the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, with a revolving-door lineup of other musicians. Despite a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic and the group’s attempt to penetrate numerous global markets, they never quite managed to achieve the mainstream success they deserved. Wright’s documentary tackles the subject matter with a new interviews, animated/re-enacted footage, and even rare vintage archival footage of the band through the decades.

Confession time. Despite being a huge music fan with a love that spans many genres, I’d never heard of Sparks prior to watching this documentary. And after seeing the movie, I’m asking myself, where has this band been all my life? The group’s eccentric and diverse musical styles with witty and comedic lyrics has made them the favorite of many a fan and fellow performer over a 50+ year period. I’m shocked I'd never heard of them sooner. Edgar Wright’s documentary on the band is a revelation in more ways than one, spanning the group’s entire career with a ton of interesting facts and even plenty of humor to go around, even if its 140-minute running time is excessive.

What impresses most about THE SPARKS BROTHERS is the sheer variety of interviewees the filmmakers have been able to assemble. You’ve got the obligatory interviews with the brothers themselves, former band members and acquaintances, as well as plenty of testimony from fans of the group who share why they became and have remained fans ever since. The real surprise is the other guests, with names that include the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, Bjork, Flea, Beck, and plenty of other surprises. The stories to be told here are priceless, and getting all these persons together for a single film about some of the unsung pop-rock heroes of the last half century is an amazing experience.

Plenty of techniques are used to share the information in the film, including rare archival footage (naturally varying in terms of its quality) and even some comically animated sequences to tell what happened at certain times. The doc is thorough with its info, yet the doc and the brothers themselves never take things too seriously, and that only adds to the fun of the movie. The showing of the movie I went to only had three people in the theater (myself included), but there were still some pretty heavy laughs throughout.

The sheer amount of information given here is perhaps the documentary’s strongest asset. Sparks has recorded well over 20 studio albums, and this film looks at literally all of them. No stone is unturned, and we get many perspectives on the process of how they were made and who worked on them. When you consider the talent who worked on some of these albums includes names like Todd Rundgren, Giorgio Moroder, Tony Visconti, and even Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s, it speaks volumes for just how respected the group is despite their relative obscurity. There’s even plenty of info on shortcomings and projects that fell through, as well as events and collaborations the group may have regretted later on. The doc presents the pop duo as talented musicians, but isn’t afraid to mention the less-than-favorable episodes as well, and it of course remains humorous throughout its duration.

The only real shortcoming in an otherwise spectacular and revelatory documentary is its excessive running time. 140 minutes is simply too long, though that’s certainly not to say the film bored me at any point. I do however believe that some tighter editing and about 20 minutes shorter of a run time could’ve made for a movie that was just as informative and impactful. It really makes you wonder how much additional content was shot/assembled for the movie, and if we’ll ever get any of that on the eventual home video release.

THE SPARKS BROTHERS may be a little bit too long, but it’s packed with info, music, humor, and revelations about a band that I somehow missed over the years despite being a music fan. From start to finish, your eyes and ears alike will be glued to the screen for this stranger-than-fiction musical odyssey that must been seen and heard to be believed. Very highly recommended!


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