SXSW 2021 Review: The Sparks Brothers

Year: 2021

Runtime: 135 minutes

Director: Edgar Wright

By Joan Amenn

Warning: this article contains references to “Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins.”

Robin Williams said we all have a spark of madness but the Brothers Mael (Ron and Russell) have enough combustible material between them to ignite Independence Day fireworks on the National Mall. Building a documentary around such inscrutable yet downright zany characters is a daunting undertaking but Edgar Wright is the perfect director who matches the duo’s quirky for fun loving quirky scene.

The two brothers grew up encouraged to be creative since their father was an artist and illustrator. He also seems to have loved the movie matinees of the 1950’s and 60’s which they cite as being very influential to their image and music. They may never have been successful in the sense of breaking into the Billboard top 100 frequently but, as the film points out, they have influenced many bands who had more name recognition than they do. For example, Paul McCartney famously lampooned Ron playing keyboard in his “Coming Up” video in 1980. If Macca acknowledges you in his music, you can honestly say you’ve made it in the industry.

Not that they have ever seemed to care about “making it” anyway. Wright captures the duo’s obsession with always recreating their sound and pushing boundaries of where their music can go. Their personal lives are not focused on, with the exception of revealing that Ron has an extensive snow globe collection. An exhaustive cast of Sparks fans make brief and often hilarious cameos to talk about their love and sometimes puzzlement with the band. The award for most deadpan yet appreciative fan goes to Jason Schwartzman for his tale of his personal connection to Sparks. Also, any documentary that includes Weird Al Yankovic enthusiastically playing his accordion is worthy of a viewer’s time.

Perhaps the most “Sparksian” event the duo ever managed to accomplish was in 2008 when they presented their “Sparks Live! Spectacular” concert. It was a kind of Wagner’s Ring cycle for pop music; twenty-one nights of all twenty-one of their albums played with the same exuberance they have always been known for. Wright does justice to this grand folly of a musical extravaganza but he also captures some surprisingly touching moments too, like how the brothers have met every day at the same place at the same time for years to have coffee and talk. “The Sparks Brothers’ is as spontaneous and infectious as the band itself and worth waiting decades for to anyone who has ever been a fan or who always wondered what was up with those two guys, anyway?

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