Sundance 2021: The Sparks Brothers

A still from The Sparks Brothers by Edgar Wright, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Jake Polonsky.

Edgar Wright brings Ron and Russell Mael’s story to the screen in The Sparks Brothers and their impact on rock music after 50 years.

There’s a chance that you’ve probably never heard of Sparks.  But what you don’t know is that they are an inspiration to your favorite band.  Or at least one of them, anyway.  Ron and Russell Mael’s story starts in California.  It later takes them across the pond to the United Kingdom.  Think about it.  The Beatles helped pave the way for British Invasion when they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.  Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to be a British band?

The Maels starts making music during their time at UCLA where they were also studying film.  In the late 1960s, they started performing under names like Urban Renewal Project and later, Halfnelson.  Another name change to Sparks and a move across the pond and the rest is history.  It isn’t until performing Spaghetti Western song “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” in 1974 that they first started to get noticed.  This is where The Beatles come back into play.  John Lennon (Simon Pegg) is watching their performance on BBC’s Top Of The Pops.  He immediately called Ringo Starr (Nick Frost) to say: “You won’t believe what’s on the television: Marc Bolan is doing a song with Adolf Hitler!”  Charlie Chaplin gets no respect!

Let’s stick with the four lads from Liverpool for another moment.  Paul McCartney specifically reacts to their impact in his music video for McCartney II‘s “Coming Up.”  The song would later inspire John Lennon to get back into the recording studio in what would become the final year of his life.  McCartney performs ten characters while late wife Linda performs two backup singers (male and female).  Pay attention to the guy on the keyboards!  But enough about The Beatles for now!

Edgar Wright talks to as many people as possible in this delightful documentary debut.  This is a man that knows his music.  After all, he gave us one of the best soundtracks ever in 2017’s Baby Driver!  It certainly captures the trademark Edgar Wright humor that we all know and love.  For example, pay attention to the film’s opening titles and the music that accompanies it.  Only Edgar Wright could make something like this happen!

This pair of brothers were art-pop pioneers but they aren’t well-known in larger circles.  One reason, perhaps, is they kept changing genres to really grow an audience.  I grew up listening to oldies and classic rock.  Mind you, I am a fan of The Beatles and Paul McCartney is one of my favorite solo acts.  But until the Sundance lineup had been announced, I had never heard of Sparks.  Robin Sparkles, however, would be a different story.  It is because of this that I appreciate how Wright approaches the musicians and tells their story.  He gets right to it in telling their story.  It isn’t your run-of-the-mill documentary and unlike other musicians, there is no fall from grace.  The average music fan might will come away from The Sparks Brothers with an appreciation of who they are, where they came from, and why we should care.

DIRECTOR:  Edgar Wright
FEATURING:  Ron Mael, Russell Mael

The Sparks Brothers holds its world premiere during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.