The Sparks Brothers: Oddly shaped tribute to oddly shaped band

Edgar Wright’s documentary includes Sparks fans Beck, Björk and New Order

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Director: Edgar Wright
Cert: PG
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Beck, Jane Wiedlin, Jason Schwartzman, Tony Visconti, Mike Myers, Giorgio Moroder, Neil Gaiman, Todd Rundgren, Nick Heyward, Steve Jones
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins

Byany rational understanding of documentary craft, Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers is an oddly shaped movie. Then again, Sparks is an oddly shaped band. Don’t expect earth-shattering revelations from the pop pioneers. Save for a few old photographs of the younger Mael brothers playing football and attending a Beatles gig, by the final credits the titular siblings remain as enigmatic as ever.

An animated reconstruction reminds us of the possibly apocryphal phone call between Ringo Starr and John Lennon (voiced by Wright regulars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) responding to the band’s Top of the Pops debut appearance: “Marc Bolan is playing with Adolf Hitler!” It’s the first of a million baffled responses to the cult band whose impact on other musicians has greatly outweighed their impact on the charts.

Using his considerable Hollywood clout, Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) has assembled an impressive array of Sparks collaborators and celebrity fans to talk through their favourite lyrics and songs. Beck, New Order, Björk, Flea and Duran Duran all doff their caps.

In 2008, The Sparks Spectacular saw the band play one album per night, in its entirety, live in London, starting with Halfnelson (1971). Taking cues from that quirky challenge, this new doc visits every album. The effect is like listening to a breathless child. And then they recorded This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us. And then they worked with Todd Rundgren and Tony Visconti, and Giorgio Moroder. And then they were on MTV. And then they made a record with Alex Kapranos.


It shouldn’t work, but it’s infectious fun for all of its not inconsiderable run time. The eccentric format double-jobs as a Sparks primer for the novice, and as a greatest hits package for the hardcore fan.

The Maels make for charming company. We get a brief glimpse of Adam Driver on the set of Annette, the wonderful Sparks musical that opened the Cannes film festival earlier this month. Wright’s film will, some day, make one-half of a thrilling double bill.

In cinemas from July 30th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic