For many Edgar Wright fans, the most distinctive thing about his films has always been the music. From the zombie fight set in Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” Shaun of the dead to the various fighting bands in Scott Pilgrim vs. the world to the whole premise based on the music of Baby driver, Wright’s films are based on both pop music and pop rhythms.
And think that this is how your brain works. “I made a video in 2015 with Pharrell Williamsand has synesthesia. When you listen to or write music, you see colors, ”Wright tells Polygon. “That made me think I have the movie version of synesthesia, where listening to songs evokes visual images. That is how Baby driver It came about: I listen to songs and think of scenes. “
And yet, he’s never used the music of one of his all-time favorite bands in a movie, because that ability wouldn’t work on them. Sparks, the eclectic and deeply eccentric rock band that Wright describes at length in his first documentary, The Sparks BrothersIt’s an obsession for Wright, but he says, “They’re not like wallpaper. Sparks demands your full attention. “
Sparks has been struggling to attract mainstream attention since its release in 1967, and the Sparks brothers, Ron and Russell Mael, have released 25 studio albums to no avail. Wright has been thinking about that for a long time. “I tried to use a Sparks song on Hot fluff, “he says.” ‘This city is not big enough for both of us’ in the scene where Timothy Dalton and Simon Pegg fight in a miniature village. I mean, it makes perfect sense! However, every time I put it on, I found myself not looking at the scene, just listening to Sparks. So I thought, ‘Maybe this won’t work.’
Instead, he ended up putting together a 140-minute love letter to his career, playing all 25 albums and drawing fans from “Weird Al” Yankovic to Neil Gaiman to praise them and talk about how influential their work has been. “The basic structure I had in my head was like, ‘Where did such a unique band come from? What is it in your DNA that inspired the band? ‘”Wright says.
“Usually when you are forming a style, you are trying to copy something and you fail, and you create something new. I wanted to ask, ‘Who are they and what inspired them?’ His journey became this rock, bringing together all these other fans, who make music and art derived from them. If you haven’t heard of Sparks, you’ve certainly heard the music of many people in the documentary who are willing to record and say, ‘Sparks inspired me.’ That was the story, for me, is that his footprint in music is so huge, and bigger than we can perhaps comprehend. As Beck points out at the end of the documentary, there are bands inspired by the Sparks inspired bands who don’t know the lineage can be traced back to them. They spawned all these artists who don’t know who their grandfather is … And they’re too modest, in a way, to point that out. They don’t want to be rude. So I felt like it was my job to show the receipts. “
There’s a funny moment at the beginning of Sparks Brothers where Scott pilgrim Actor Jason Schwartzman admits he’s not sure he wants to see the documentary when it’s finished, because Ron and Russell have been so mysterious for decades that he’s afraid to learn too much about them and ruin the Sparks experience himself. Wright also loves its deliberate conundrums, but was willing to take the risk of making the film, and says the process didn’t end up breaking the enchantment for him.
“There is still enough to talk about in a 50-year career that we can allow them to have some kind of magic on how exactly everything happens,” he says. “I think that’s one of the reasons why people still argue very much about bands like Sparks, because there is so much to unpack. There are other bands that have been hugely successful in their heyday, but there’s nothing to say about The Eagles anymore, right? “He laughs as he emphasizes that he still enjoys the music of The Eagles, he just feels like ‘there’s nothing else for them, really. But Sparks asks as many questions as he can answer.”
Part of the documentary consists of fan testimonials from a library of musicians and creators, but it also includes narrative segments that guide viewers through the Sparks story. Wright says he had to start shooting before he could figure out how to shape those parts. “Sparks doesn’t have a race with a simple three-act structure,” he says. “Most music documentaries are like up, down and up. And Sparks goes up and down all the time like an ECG machine.
“Even after we had done all the interviews, producer George Hencken and I took the Hollywood beat sheet and he said ‘If you had to put the Sparks story in a three act structure, what would it be like?’ Somehow we solved it. There’s an obvious low point in the late 1980s where there wasn’t a new Sparks album, and they put it all off. [while working on a Tim Burton film that eventually fizzled]. They learned the lesson of not putting all their chips on one thing. Suddenly six years have passed and they are no longer a known entity in music. The music scene moves very fast. “
The film also features strange interstitials, where Russell and Ron Mael deliver fake Sparks facts to the camera with straight faces, or mimic little metaphors about where their careers were at a given point in history. “I came up with all those ideas, but they contributed,” says Wright. “Like the FAQ sequence at the beginning, I wrote the questions, but they wrote down all the answers and memorized them as actors.”
He says the false facts segment was inspired by something the Maels used to do in their own newsletter from the 1970s. “They claimed in a fan newsletter that they were the children of Doris Day. It was before the Internet and people believed it for decades, ”says Wright. “Another was, ‘They used to be manual models.’ So there are all these bullshit facts. So I thought, why not, at the end of the documentary, I just lay out a bunch of shitty facts. I think they wrote all those. “
For the factual parts of the documentary, Wright says he spent about nine hours interviewing the Maels, in four sessions. “They are so much fun,” he says. “They are really accomplished. And they are sincere in what they do. They really believe in the art of writing pop songs. Many other bands that have been performing for so long find it inferior to them to try to attract an audience with a four minute song. And it has always amazed me how Sparks has never shied away from that. And then how much effort they put into the images, and the fact that they can laugh at themselves, all of that made them the perfect interviewees, as well as the perfect subject. “
Meeting your idols is always a complicated process, but Wright says the Maels were no different than he expected, once he got close. “Getting to know them – I suspected even before I started that there was nothing behind the curtain. Behind the curtain were Ron and Russell. The line between them and Sparks has also become permanently blurred for them. They say that in the documentary and I totally believe it ”.
And one of the joys of meeting Russell and Ron was that they share their sense that images and music are linked. “Sparks has always had cinematic aspirations, which are manifested in music. Songs are often like little operas about the slightest social interaction or observation. They become these little four minute movies. They have a gift, in a sense, because the way they approach music is not much different than how I have made some of my films.
“I’m not saying it’s Jean-Luc Godard. But as Ron says in the documentary, they loved French New Wave movies, because Jean-Luc Godard could make movies and also comment on making movies at the same time. And then Sparks has this crafty ability to make songs that are completely sincere in their composition, composition and emotion, and yet they are also self-reflective. I think it’s one of the things that maybe kept them away from a super mainstream audience, because sometimes they are a band where you have to work and even decode what exactly they mean. ”
The Sparks Brothers is currently in theaters.