Sparks rock documentary a monumental success

‘Sparks’ fly in monumental rock music documentary

Famously, Winston Churchill defined Russia as: “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.

The same could almost be said about the legendary US rock band Sparks, who have defied the odds to continue producing music for more than 50 years now.

It was with some anticipation that I attended the media preview recently to see Edgar Wright’s new biopic The Sparks Brothers.

At two-and-a-half hours the movie may be long, but it is by no means boring.

Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) may be English, but he has captured the essence of the two-man, alternative US rock band in spades.

The beginning of the movie outlines the young brothers’ (Ron and Russell Mael, now aged 75 and 73 respectively) middle-class upbringing in Los Angeles, California, and the devastating impact the early, unexpected death of their father had upon them.

As the older of the two, Ron’s distinctive pencil moustache has sometimes been compared to Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin.

Thankfully, this dubious accessory did not appear to hinder the band’s development: although after more than 50 years in the music business, including 25 albums, they have still managed to remain somewhat ‘underappreciated’.

The Sparks Brothers is a musical odyssey covering the many and varied phases of the band’s development.

It stretches from their early, lean days playing small clubs in California, to chart-success in the UK and Europe and finally, upon their later successful collaborations with such world beaters as Scottish alternative rockers Franz Ferdinand, and electronic pop maestro Giorgio Moroder.

Some of Sparks’ biggest hits came after a period of decline and as the movie documents, they are experts at continually reinventing themselves.

Being mistaken for a British band is something they played on and it was certainly a factor in their European success, where they were often compared with British stalwarts Roxy Music and The Kinks.

The documentary also expands upon Sparks’ quirkiness and their refusal to follow trends: for example, their Giorgio Moroder collaboration which produced 1979’s smash hit ‘No 1 in Heaven’; one of the first all-synthesizer pop-rock albums.

In such a long movie, there is a danger the audience might drift off and lose interest.

Fortunately, in The Sparks Brothers, the director is savvy enough to realise that keeping the film funny and vibrant will prevent even the most cynical viewer from tuning out.

While the brothers’ personal lives (such as their partners or possibly children), are not covered in any detail, we do learn quite a lot about their early family upbringing: although exactly how their father died so young is never clear.

Another area not mentioned is the fact that the Mael family is Jewish – with the boys born shortly after the Second World War to parents Meyer and Miriam Mael.

Odd, but perhaps just a smallish detail that slipped under the radar.

The rest of the film is a tribute to two of the hardest working people in the music industry: brothers who, in the words of the documentary maker, never looked for fame or fortune and literally produced ‘art for art’s sake’.

At times perhaps, the movie does come across a bit syrupy, with the brothers elevated to almost ‘godlike’ status.

However, this does not detract from its overall excellence, with Edgar Wright producing one of the most comprehensive and entertaining rock documentaries I have seen for a very long time.

The Sparks Brothers is showing at Luna Leederville from July 8, 2021.

Sparks rock documentary a monumental success
Sparks rock documentary a monumental success

By Mike Peeters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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