Seeing Edgar Wright tackle a documentary for the first time captivated me to see his latest effort, The Sparks Brothers. After films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver, this almost acts as a palette cleanser. It is entirely different from what Wright has done before, while at the same time being more of the same. Wright treats The Sparks Brothers almost like he does his fictional features. Only this time, he is dealing with real subjects and situations. With his usual creative and humorous editing, he makes The Sparks Brothers stand out from other documentaries.
The film chronicles the creation and evolution of the band known as The Sparks. As such, it chronicles their many albums and constantly evolving style. Naturally, it spends a lot of time on band members Ron and Russell Mael. Their constant voice in the sea of different talking heads helps the film stay consistent. It’s a long journey with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. While it drags a bit more towards the end, for the most part, it keeps its audience invested.
Wright’s distinct visual flair works to great extent. Part of this is him combining media stock footage from films and shows with visuals made specifically for the documentary. For instance, special claymation animation or animated segments tell a story from the Sparks. Also, using voice-overs from the talking heads produces a charming result. The animations make the stories that Ron and Russell recount really pop.
The other choice Wright makes visually is the use of black and white cinematography. All the interviews are filmed in black & white, which fits with the rest of the film’s aesthetic. Moreover, the rare use of colors in the talking heads emphasize the dramatic effect when need be. Not to mention, the frantic editing helps the film since it matches the feel of its subjects.
This was clearly a passion project for Edgar Wright. He himself is a talking head at several points. Watching him explain what he thinks makes The Sparks special hits differently. The documentary feels a lot more personal thanks to it. Expanding more on his visual flair, it’s seen in the editing and graphics. Texts and visuals accompany almost every interview and help enhance the story in every way. The focus on the odd design of every Sparks album cover and an accompanying definition of whatever the title is adds humorous effect. The Sparks Brothers really wants to immerse you in the creative process of this odd revelatory band.
While going through each album, artists from every craft give their take on them. Whether it be journalists, musicians, or filmmakers, The Sparks Brothers makes sure to help viewers understand what makes each one special and different. The musical journey in The Sparks Brothers is a magical one because of how invested the talking heads are. Each one has something to say that helps to grow a more intimate understanding as the runtime goes on. Add to that the consistent narrative thread of the two brothers providing their own commentary, and you get a full spectrum of what you can expect from the enigmatic band.
As its title suggests, The Sparks Brothers is really about these two brothers. Brothers who work together in their craft. Brothers who understand each other so well they hardly need to speak to make music together. Wright’s passion, as well as that of many others, turns The Sparks Brothers into a powerful testament to the power of music. It’s a beautifully made documentary that will make you want to go and listen to one of their albums right after. – Ernesto Valenzuela
The Sparks Brothers is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!