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Jake Polonsky/Sundance Institute

The Sparks Brothers (2021)

“The Sparks Brothers” is an Edgar Wright documentary; and fun is the operative word. No stodginess allowed! Unlike the incredibly tedious “Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)” that also premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Mr. Wright seizes every opportunity to make this a lively experience – yes, he is not above IDing talking heads Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as Duran and Duran.

The subject is Sparks, the cultish glam rock-synthpop outfit revolving around brothers Ron and Russell Mael with other band members playing musical chairs à la Steely Dan. Though originally from Los Angeles, the idiosyncratic unit has often been mistaken as hailing from Britain, where it has cemented much of its commercial success. The film lifts a lot of the mystique shrouding the duo. Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the brothers dig French New Wave and Ingmar Bergman. And who knew the lanky Ron Mael – most memorable for his Hitler mustache and blank facial expression onstage behind the keyboard – once played football? There are other revelations, such as their many ill-fated forays into the movie business.

If nothing else, “The Sparks Brothers” establishes just how immensely influential they have been, with a who’s-who lineup of commentators from Beck to Todd Rundgren to Flea to Steve Jones to Vince Clarke to Björk to Thurston Moore enthusiastically offering testimonials. Mr. Wright certainly has a jolly good time with the material, variously deploying reenactments (with the brothers playing their younger selves), illustrations and even stop motion – whatever it takes to recap the Sparks’ career in an entertaining way. There’s even something for Mr. Wright’s longtime fans, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost lending their voices as John Lennon and Ringo Starr.


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