“Some might find me borderline attractive from afar, But afar is not where I can stay and there you are.” – Sparks – ‘Johnny Delusional’
The lyrics of a Sparks song exist in their own ethereal realm, somewhere between the land of surreal dreams and the very real psychology of human angst. Headed up by the eccentric brotherly duo of Ron and Russell Mael, the pair elicit a strange alien energy, encouraged by the sharp-eyed glare of Ron on keyboard sporting a strong, vivid square moustache, reminiscent of a particular dictator, or perhaps Charlie Chaplin? Whilst they thankfully share little with the German megalomaniac, comparisons to Chaplin are certainly welcome, sharing a similar sense of innate frenetic joy and an astute understanding of industry nous.
Their extraordinary career, merrily celebrating life in the shadows of the industry limelight, is extensively explored in Edgar Wright’s scrapbook documentary The Sparks Brothers, which suffuses with love and a passion for ceaseless creativity. Gathering together multiple industry names and purveyors of the Sparks identity, Edgar Wright ropes in an eclectic bunch of folk, each singing the praises of the influential band with genuine insight. Including author Neil Gaiman, actor Jason Schwartzman and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among many others, Wright’s varied cast well illustrates the extensive reach of Sparks’ influence.
Detailing an encyclopedic knowledge of the band whilst avoiding an exhaustive narrative, director Edgar Wright uses several creative methods of cinema to keep the story fresh and dynamic, much like the constantly reinventing duo themselves. Including sequences of stop-motion animation, interviews and extensive archival footage, Wright’s enduring passion for Sparks is self-evident, using every expression of artistry to sing their praises.
Ron and Russell’s career isn’t explored; it’s thoroughly excavated, picking out the finer, stranger details that, when examined, act as a perfect microcosmic example of what makes the band so good. It’s this mix of trivial facts along with the band’s core story that makes The Sparks Brothers so special, creating a complex web of their eclectic identity that pieces together their personality whilst shrouding them in increasing mystery. “We saw the Beatles twice because we had a cool mum,” Russell comments, speaking of their love of the anomalous English pop band, with Paul McCartney later referencing Sparks in his video for ‘Coming Up’ in which you can glimpse a stern lookalike of Ron on keyboard.
The relationship of the enigmatic duo is symbiotic, with Ron seemingly at the spiritual heart, whilst Russell makes their material palatable for a general audience, displaying an on-stage persona halfway between Freddy Mercury and a troubled children’s TV presenter. It’s a brotherly love that makes for a hotpot of creative excitement wear in their identity frequently shifts and adapts to the industry’s changing tides. Moreover, it is Sparks themselves changing such tides, a lunar overseer of the music industry, carefully nudging creativity in new, exciting directions.
Despite having established themselves half a century ago, the pertinence of Sparks is truly remarkable, having released their 24th studio album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip in 2020, in addition to a brand new collaboration with filmmaker Leos Carax in 2021. Their first time penning a feature film project, Carax’s award-winning Annette includes original music from the duo, performed by Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, and represents yet another cornerstone in their career. An ode to pure, unadulterated creativity, it looks as though Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers is about to start a fire.