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Edgar Wright on why he wasn’t afraid to demystify Sparks, his favorite band

For many Edgar Wright fans, the most distinctive thing about his films has always been the music. From zombie fighting game to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun of the Dead to the different combat bands Scott Pilgrim Vs. the world to the whole musical premise of Baby Driver, Wright’s films are as much about pop music as they are about pop rhythms.

And he thinks that’s just the way his brain works. “I did a video in 2015 with Pharrell Williams, and he has synesthesia. When he hears or writes music, he sees colors, ”Wright told ServerPlay. “It made me think I had the movie version of synesthesia, where listening to songs conjures up visual images. It’s kind of like that. Baby Driver happened – I listen to songs and think about scenes.

And yet, he never used music from one of his all-time favorite bands in a movie, as 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 Brothers, is sort of an obsession for Wright, but he says, “They’re not like wallpaper. Sparks demands your full attention.

Sparks has struggled for mainstream attention since its launch in 1967, and the Sparks brothers, Ron and Russell Mael, have released 25 studio albums without ever really breaking through. Wright has been thinking about it for a long time now. “I tried to use a Sparks song in Warm down, “he says.” I wanted ‘This town is not big enough for the two of us’ in the scene where Timothy Dalton and Simon Pegg are fighting in a miniature village. I mean, it makes perfect sense! However, each once I put it on, I found myself not looking at the scene, just listening to Sparks. So I thought, ‘Maybe that won’t work.’ “

Instead, he ended up putting together a 140-minute love letter to their careers, touching all 25 albums and bringing “Weird Al” Yankovic fans to Neil Gaiman to congratulate them and talk about their influence. job. “The basic structure I had in mind was like, ‘Where do they come from, such a unique band? What is it in their DNA that inspired the group? ‘ Says Wright.

Director Edgar Wright, between Russell and Ron Mael
Photo: Jake Polonsky / Focus Features

“Usually when you create a style, you try to pull something out and you fail, and you create something new. I wanted to ask, “Who are they and what inspired them? Their journey has become this rock, bringing together all these other fans, who make music and art of it. If you haven’t heard of Sparks, you’ve certainly heard music from a lot of people in the documentary who are ready to record and say, “Sparks inspired me. That was the story, for me, is that their imprint in the music is so huge, and bigger than we can possibly understand. 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 goes 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 stress it. 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 start of Sparks Brothers where Scott pilgrim Actor Jason Schwartzman admits he’s not sure if he’ll want to watch the documentary once it’s over, as Ron and Russell have been so mysterious over the decades that he’s afraid to learn too much about them. and ruin the Sparks experience for itself. Wright also enjoys their deliberate puzzles, but he was willing to risk making the movie, and he says the process didn’t break the enchantment for him.

“There’s still enough to be said in a 50-year career that we can leave some sort of magic to them in exactly how it all plays out,” he says. “I think that’s one of the reasons people are still arguing so much about bands like Sparks, because there’s just a lot to unbox. There are other bands that are hugely successful in their prime, but there’s really nothing more to say about The Eagles, is there? He laughs, pointing out that he still loves Eagles music, he just feels like “there’s nothing else going on for them, really.” But Sparks asks as many questions as he can answer.

Part of the documentary consists of testimonials from fans from a library of musicians and creators, but it also includes narrative segments that guide viewers through the story of Sparks. Wright says he had to start shooting before he could figure out how to shape these parts. “Sparks doesn’t have a career with a simple three-act structure,” he says. “Most music documentaries are like going up, down and up. And Sparks goes up and down all the time like an ECG machine.

“Even after doing all the interviews, producer George Hencken and I took the Hollywood rhythm sheet and said, ‘If you were to put the Sparks story in a three act structure, what would it look like? ? We kind of got it. There is an obvious low point in the late 1980s where there was no new Sparks album, and they pushed it all back. [while working on a Tim Burton film that eventually fizzled]. They have learned the lesson of not putting all of 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 quickly.

Russell and Ron Mael of Sparks, dressed entirely in black.  hold the window frames and look through in The Sparks Brothers

The Sparks Brothers
Photo: Focus features

The film also features bizarre interstitials, in which Russell and Ron Mael themselves deliver direct sparks fake facts on camera or mimic small metaphors as to where their careers were at some point in history. “I came up with all of these ideas, but they helped,” says Wright. “Like the FAQ sequence at the beginning, I wrote down the questions, but they wrote down all the answers, and they memorized them as actors.”

He says the false facts segment was inspired by something the Maels did in their own 1970s newsletter. “They claimed in a fan newsletter that they were the sons of Doris Day. That was before the internet. , and people believed it for decades, “says Wright.” Another was, ‘They were hand models.’ So there’s all that bullshit stuff. So I thought, why not , at the end of the documentary, just state a whole bunch of bullshit facts? I think they wrote it all down.

For the factual portions of the documentary, Wright says he spent about nine hours interviewing the Maels, over four sessions. “They are very funny,” 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 around for so long consider it unworthy of them to try and engage an audience with a four-minute song. And I’ve always been impressed with how Sparks never shied away from that. And then how much effort they put into the visuals, and the fact that they can laugh at themselves, that makes them the perfect interviewees, as well as the perfect subject.

Meeting your idols is always a difficult 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 so in the documentary, and I totally believe it. “

And one of the pleasures of getting to know Russell and Ron was that they shared his feeling that visuals and music are linked. “Sparks has always had cinematic aspirations, which are reflected in the music. The songs are often like little operas about the smallest social interaction or observation. They sort of become these little four-minute films. They have a knack, in a way, because the way they approach music is no different from the way I did some of my films.

“I am not saying that I am Jean-Luc Godard. But as Ron says in the documentary, they liked French New Wave films because Jean-Luc Godard could make films and also comment on filmmaking at the same time. And then Sparks has this shrewd gift of making songs that are utterly genuine in their writing, composition, and emotions, and yet are also self-reflective. I think that’s one of the things that maybe held them back from a super mainstream audience, because sometimes it’s a band that you have to work on, and even decode what they’re getting at.

The Sparks Brothers is currently in theaters.

Edgar Wright films Ron and Russell Mael at an airport in The Sparks Brothers

Photo: Richie Starzec / Focus Features

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