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SUNDANCE 2021 Premieres

Edgar Wright • Director of The Sparks Brothers

“Once you are into them, you don't grow out of them”


- We chatted to the British director about his feature, which documents the incredible career of Ron and Russell Mael

Edgar Wright  • Director of The Sparks Brothers

Playing in the Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival, The Sparks Brothers [+see also:
film review
interview: Edgar Wright
film profile
is a highly watchable film that documents the incredible career of mainstays Ron and Russell Mael, which is still going strong more than 50 years after they first formed a band in college. They would go on to create Sparks in 1971. Edgar Wright has made an amazing rollercoaster ride of a feature about these musicians who keep on reinventing themselves.

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Cineuropa: How do you make a movie big enough for the Sparks brothers?
Edgar Wright: On the one hand, it's a challenge because they have a 50-year career behind them. But also, it's sort of a gift, in a way, because there are not many music documentaries where the band has been going for that long and where those people are still with us to talk about it. So, as I started to make the movie, it became more than just the story of Sparks; it became a journey through pop culture in the last 65 years. So it was a really great thing that this band is still a going concern and is still releasing music. Their first album was released 50 years ago, and it's such an interesting and unusual trajectory for a group. That was the reason I wanted to make a movie, so I wasn't daunted by it; I was kind of excited by it.

What's your favourite Sparks lyric?
There's a middle eight in “Beat the Clock” that always amuses me: it goes, “I've seen everything there is, I've done everything there is, I've met everyone but Liz, now I've even met old Liz.” I like that lyric.

Sparks have a fantastic way of being both funny and poignant, which is a bit like watching an Edgar Wright film…
Yeah, I think there are some similarities there – in that I think we are both sincere about what we do, and serious about the work, yet there's an element where we're kind of subverting it and making fun of it at the same time. But I think people misconstrue Sparks – not so much now, but there have definitely been periods when they have been considered a joke band by some people. But there's so much more to them than that, and they have better chops than most regular bands. So I think in that sense, they are a riddle to people. Maybe that's why they have scared the mainstream audience. But, on the flip side, that’s why we are talking about them now. They're a band that, once you are into them, you don't grow out of them.

There are some amazing interviews here; how did you decide who to talk to?
They had to be people who were passionate about Sparks [laughs]! There wasn't anyone I didn't want to talk to; the idea was to talk to people with a passion for Sparks, from all walks of life – people they grew up with, people they have worked with, or people they've inspired. Or just people who are fans, really. One of my favourite bits in the movie is the story of a 14-year-old who invaded the stage and latched onto Russell, which is told by a woman in her fifties who got in contact with us after we put out on social media that we were making a Sparks documentary.

It's admirable how the documentary is so comprehensive and isn't afraid of going into detail.
You may as well be comprehensive. You don't want people saying, “I want to hear about Sparks’ appearance in Rollercoaster.” It's in there!

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