From left, Ron Mael, Russell Mael, and director Edgar Wright found harmony while making their documentary. Focus Features

Movies

If You Haven’t Heard of Sparks, Edgar Wright Wants to Change That

The British filmmaker hopes his first nonfiction feature will finally lift eccentric siblings Ron and Russell Mael out of 50 years of relative obscurity.

Edgar Wright is a Sparks fan. But the British filmmaker wants his documentary about the eccentric California pop-rock duo to be equally accessible for those who aren’t aficionados.

After all, a primary motivation for Wright (Baby Driver) to embark on his first nonfiction feature was helping to lift the band led by siblings Ron and Russell Mael out of 50 years of relative obscurity.

The resulting four-year odyssey culminated with The Sparks Brothers, which salutes the longevity and legacy of the Mael brothers, their catalog of 25 albums and counting, and a creative process marked by various genre influences.

“I’d always wanted to do a documentary, and the idea was sort of thrown back at me as I was passing it around. I had become such an evangelist for the group,” Wright said during the South by Southwest Film Festival. “One of the reasons they weren’t as big as they deserved to be was that there wasn’t a documentary or an overview. Once I said it out loud, it was like a vocal contract.”

The musicians resisted documentary ideas over the years, but after talking with Wright, they became enthusiastic about the project.

“We would have preferred to not have a documentary made about Sparks at all if we couldn’t go into it being confident that the director was the right person, who had the right sensibility and was on the same wavelength,” Russell Mael said. “We just threw ourselves into it. We had no reservations at all. Everything that Edgar proposed had the right sort of tone to capture what the band is.”

The film recalls the band’s humble beginnings in the late 1960s, its popularity in Europe, its unique stage antics, and its continual reinventions that continue today. Along with interviews in both Los Angeles and London, Wright filmed footage in locales ranging from Japan to Mexico.

“There isn’t a golden period with Sparks. It’s all golden. It was an unusual story to tell,” Wright said. “I wanted to spend as much time on the recent stuff as I did on the early stuff. We wanted to tell the whole story and retain the enigma of Ron and Russell.”

That approach earned the trust of Russell, the band’s charismatic vocalist, and Ron, the keyboardist who maintains an almost comical deadpan demeanor.

“We try not to look back. That’s part of what has kept us relevant in a certain way,”  Russell said. “We like to start off each new project with a spirit like on Day 1 back in the seventies. We don’t know what the end result will be. We like to have blinders on and treat each album like it’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

Now in their 70s, the siblings are as busy as ever. They are working on a new album and they are promoting the documentary, which releases in theaters this week.

Additionally, in August, their labor of love Annette finally comes to the big screen. The Maels wrote the screenplay and recorded the soundtrack for the upcoming musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.

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