Edgar Wright has been directing scripted films, music videos and episodic television for over 25 years, but he had yet to make a documentary feature—until now.
In The Sparks Brothers, he explores two of the most talented men in popular music: brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who have been performing together since the late 1960s, first as Halfnelson and later as Sparks. They are considered simultaneously among the most influential groups in history, but one of the most overlooked.
“I thought it was interesting that Sparks had an unusual sort of following, in that different pockets of the world were into different [eras] of the music,” Wright said during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event. “What I wanted to do was give an overview of the whole career and also just show how influential they were by interviewing the people that they influenced.”
Beck, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jack Antonoff are among the recording industry luminaries who pay tribute to the Maels in the Focus Features film and attempt to describe the brothers’ appeal and unique style of music.
“It was amazing to hear what other people had to say about us,” Russell Mael, the younger of the brothers, said. “Because we’re so insular in what we do that it’s really hard for us to judge.”
The Maels are known for songs with an ostensibly comedic bent to them, but that sneak in deeper meanings and themes.
“There’s a flip side to some of the humor where it also has another side to it that’s actually profound and deep and maybe has even a darker side to things or a more resonant side that isn’t necessarily humorous,” Russell said. “We like to shift the tone of our songs to where something might have a humorous title like ‘Angst in My Pants,’ say. But then when you actually listen to the lyrics, maybe it’s a bit more profound, what’s actually being said, and not so hilarious.”
The Sparks Brothers has earned nominations for the IDA Awards, the Critics Choice Documentary Awards, and the Cinema Eye Honors, among other distinctions. Ron Mael adds his praise for the work by Wright, whose previous films include Shaun of the Dead (2004), Baby Driver (2017) and this year’s Last Night in Soho.
“What we feel is the kinetic nature of a lot of our music was reflected in the way that the documentary was made,” Ron commented. “Obviously, Edgar’s films are incredibly kinetic, and that was one reason why Edgar was the only one that we ever said yes to [doing a documentary] about us… We were so happy in the end that it turned out that way.”
Check out the panel video above.