Rated R for language and innuendo, I guess. It's a long movie and I was wondering what garnered this movie the R-rating at one point. There's some references to sexual content, but this movie is a sneeze away from just being your standard PG-13 movie. I suppose there's something rock n' roll about swearing, which matches the tone of the film. But it's a very mild R.
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
When I worked at Thomas Video (oh no, another one of these anecdotes!), the bosses were Sparks. Okay, they weren't literally Sparks. They were Cinecyde and it was weird for me. For a guy who just consumes popular culture almost on a professional level, my knowledge of music is lacking so much more than everything else. I will watch a movie and immediately know if I like it or not on a deep level. Music, for me, is such an odd thing. I'll listen to an album over-and-over again and I might have an opinion on it after a long time. So I just stick to the same stuff without reaching out.
When Edgar Wright made a movie about the band that only the pros know about --which may be the ultimate hipster cred --I can't claim to be in the select few to claim myself as a fan. It's kind of like knowing about Cinecyde. Despite being wildly prolific, the masses just never really grabbed onto Sparks. Part of me, throughout the documentary, was ready to think that this whole documentary was an experiment and I was ready for the rug to fall out from under me to discover that this band never really existed. Heck, at one point, that was the more plausible suggestion. I couldn't believe that a band that had 25 albums out and had music videos out on MTV was as unheard of as Sparks. It didn't help that Ron and Russell state fake facts about themselves in the after credits sequence. There's just something about the notion that Edgar Wright, my favorite current director, making a movie about a band that I didn't know about and treating it far more traditionally than he treated anything in his life.
It's not like he didn't do anything with this documentary. There's little threads of personality that are sticking out of the little moments. These are the moments I glom onto. But the entire movie led me to something I thought I had buried in eighth grade. After leading an adulthood hinged on cynicism and debunking the conspiracy theory, my brain went into full on conspiracy theory mode. The Sparks Brothers is a fantastic documentary that literally carries its weight when it comes to teaching. I learned so much about the Mael Brothers and I understood what drove them to make their art. I understood the themes of passion and its tendency to imprison those who loved it. But at the end of the day, Edgar Wright --the guy who made the Baby Driver opening credits one of the best openings in cinematic history, made just another rock doc. It's better than most. But this is Scorsese's Last Waltz. While both filmmakers are once in a generation geniuses, it's odd seeing them both nerd out on music like they do.
With the Maels, I get the appeal of a documentary. They are kind of the illuminati of film. There's a secret society that worship at their feet. They are a band that dares you to like them. They don't make anything easy. Heck, they made me reconsider getting back on the Weezer train (although, to be fair, I think that Weezer is desperate to be commercially successful at all times). Just talking about Sparks is a punk rock statement, considering that the brothers were always just outside of the punk scene. I also get that Wright wanted to paint the picture of the brothers, but with the constant foundation of the film being Ron. There's something haunting about Ron as an artist. He's an eccentric. He's the Teller of the Penn and Teller act. Yet, it is almost Ron who is the drive for this band. Russell, while fully a collaborator, understands that this band's voice is Ron's weirdness. He feels like the posterchild for the the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, which has the unintended consequence of being phenomenally lonely.
And Wright, because he stays out of our way with it, successfully conveys Ron's frustration with entertainment and his weird place in the annals of history. Ron and Russell are the morality play about the importance of integrity. Everything they do stares at the comfortable and actively denies it. They want success. The film can't deny that the two want to be household names so badly. But they don't want to be household names if that means selling out in any way. They want to be household names in the same way that Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso are household names. That is really interesting to me from someone who will never be a celebrity. As much as I can think of Cary Grant or The Beatles, there's something very different about the troubled artist that seems more important. I'm thinking about the Sylvia Plaths and the Ernest Hemingways of the world. From what Wright presents in The Sparks Brothers, that's where the Maels will probably end up, given the right amount of attention. They know what they want and they'll continue fighting for that imagery.
I don't know if I want to go anywhere else. As a music documentary, this is one of those movies that makes me want to explore their back catalog. There's a 10% part of me that honestly believes that this band still doesn't exist. But the rest of me wants to understand them better. But there's something wildly intimidating about that. Every album, if it exists and isn't just a directorial experiment by Edgar Wright, is a different vibe. Here's me, in 2021, having to go through this insane back catalog and not only determine if I like Sparks, but which Sparks I like. That's a tall order, but it might be something that is ultimately worth it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.