Sparks, composed of siblings Ron Mael ’67 and Russell Mael ’71, may be the most influential pop act you’ve never heard of. But this year, with two movies making waves, that could change.
Since the 1970s, distinctive songwriter Ron and his falsetto-voiced brother, Russell, have produced 25 albums. Some have sold well, while others have been relegated mainly to obscurity.
The two have zigzagged across myriad genres, from glam rock and electronic dance music to the full-throated musical The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, which was commissioned by Swedish public radio. They even wrote the theme song for KCRW’s literary talk show “Bookworm.”
Now there’s an eye-popping documentary about them called The Sparks Brothers, released in U.S. theaters in June 2021. The film, which makes use of graphics and visual tricks, explores the act’s idiosyncratic influence and also gives airtime to fans. Admirers include Björk, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Neil Gaiman and Patton Oswalt. The film’s British director, Edgar Wright, says the duo is both massively respected and utterly obscure.
Annette, a musical drama that the brothers wrote and scored, will be released in U.S. theaters in August. The film, which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival, stars Adam Driver and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as the parents of a gifted child. It was shot across Europe as well as in Sparks’ native Los Angeles.
At UCLA, the siblings both studied art. “It was at UCLA that everything coalesced,” Ron, the elder Mael, says in The Sparks Brothers. Adds Russell, “We grew up in Pacific Palisades, west of the campus, so [UCLA] was our natural choice. We were already making music, but UCLA helped us think about the theatrical side. It was, in those days, a very freeing place to be.”