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The Sparks Brothers Documentary film review


Directed by: #EdgarWright

Starring: #RonMael and #RussellMael

Documentary film review by: Brian Penn

The Sparks Brothers (2021)

In every 1970s household there was a vinyl album that only got played once. It was bought on the strength of a hit single and still had its original shrink wrapping. However, when played the rest of the album was sadly found wanting; or so everyone thought. For me that album was ‘Kimono my house’ by Sparks. The two hit singles were the brilliantly inventive ‘Amateur Hour’ and ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us’. The remaining tracks fell into a pit of indifference as my brothers and I turned our attention elsewhere.

I now attribute this omission to youthful ignorance as Sparks are one of the truly original recording artists of their time. This new film by Edgar Wright is a welcome retrospective of their contribution to popular music.

The film does its best to break free of the clichés that so often bedevil the documentary format. However, Wright is still hemmed in by convention with a standard mix of interviews and archive footage. Key players in the band’s journey are featured including former band members and producers. A smattering of celebrity fans also offer their observations; but it scores additional points by interviewing ‘joe public’ fans who excitedly pick themselves out on film during a Sparks concert.

There are occasional animated inserts with one dimensional characters portraying conversations in the narrative. These inserts don’t work as well as they should and sometimes make the film appear amateurish. That might have been the intention but was an annoying distraction. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive compendium of the brothers’ work over a period of 50 years. This slavish attention to detail is both a strength and weakness. Virtually every one of their 25 albums is reviewed; manna from heaven for the fans but heavy going for newcomers.

Clips of their early appearances on Top of the Pops are an absolute treat as the brothers’ unique talent became obvious. Lead vocalist Russell Mael, tall and angular with a staccato delivery; and keyboardist Ron Mael, passively tapping a piano while staring into the camera. A passing resemblance to a certain wartime leader made him the talk of every playground. There’s absolutely no question how significant their contribution has been. The influence on every synth band from Duran Duran to New Order and Heaven 17 is plain to see. But Sparks are an acquired taste, and a film of this length and detail is unlikely to win over many new fans.


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