Ever heard of the band Sparks? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. If you have, it’s not unlikely that they’re one of your favorite bands.
The pop rock duo formed by brothers Ron and Russell Mael has in their five-decade run gained a cult following of some seriously creative people, from Beck and Weird Al to Mike Myers and Amy Sherman-Palladino. And they are the subject of “The Sparks Brothers,” a new documentary from filmmaker Edgar Wright that explores the question of how a band can be “successful, underrated, hugely influential and overlooked all at the same time.” The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday night.
Wright has been a fan since he first saw them on Top of the Pops in 1979 at age five and said they “kept coming back into his life” in the pre-Internet age of music fandom. Over the years it grew into a bit of an obsession.
“At some point when you’re a fan of a band like Sparks you become a sort of evangelist for them,” Wright said.
He kept toying with the idea of a documentary, thinking that perhaps an overview was the thing that was holding them back from wider fame. Then in 2017 at a Sparks gig, director Phil Lord just told him to do it. That night he asked them if they would be open to the idea.
People had approached the Maels in the past about doing a documentary and they’d always had the same answer: No.
“We’d always been hesitant about the idea of having a documentary for Sparks,” said Russell Mael. “We tend to feel that what we do via our music and the image you have of the band, the album cover artwork and seeing the band, the videos on television, that that speaks better than any document could speak about us.”
Part of the allure of the band is the mystery surrounding them. They worried that a documentary would lessen that. A running misconception is that they’re British. And their Wikipedia page is terrifically confusing. Jason Schwartzman in the documentary even says (mostly in jest) that he’s not sure that he’ll ever watch it because he doesn’t want to learn too much about them. But the Maels were already fans of Wright’s films, which include “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.”