It should come as no surprise that Edgar Wright’s labor of love, a two and half hour documentary about the rock duo called Sparks, made no money over the weekend.
The bigger surprise is that Focus Features released it to theaters. Almost no one has heard of Sparks, and if they did, they were part of a very inside cult clique.
Sparks is Russell Mael and his brother Ron. They’ve been around since 1967, when I was 10. All through the 70s, when the classic rock canon was established, Sparks had no hits at all. None. I’ve never heard of any of their songs or had any interest in them. No one did. I was into everything from the Beatles to Hendrix to Steely Dan, all of the R&B music of the 70s, then punk, new wave, quirky music, Wreckless Eric, and so on. I thought by then Sparks was gone.
They have persisted, the Maels. The documentary explains how that happened. The 80s, 90s, aughts. The brothers are in their 70s. They’ve never collaborated with anyone even remotely well known, participated in any high visibility activity, been cited suddenly as influences. Their last top 100 album was in 1983 and it peaked at number 88. Their 10 fans probably think I’m some dunderhead too stupid to get them. They’re right! I feel that away about They Might Be Giants, as well. They might have been, but I never got it.
I don’t think I’ve even heard these groups played on Little Steven’s Sirius Radio station, they really get into obscure stuff.
So now, Sparks has sold 3,000 albums this year according to Buzz Angle/Alpha Data. And that’s all in the last couple of weeks thanks to the documentary and press about them. They have a new album on BMG called “A Steady Drip Drip Drip” which is an apt title for their life story.
Over the weekend, Wright’s documentary made $265,000 in over 500 theaters. The per screen average was $496. My guess is this will be the high. Maybe “Sparks” will be a streaming or cable hit. Anything is possible. To me, Sparks will always be a steakhouse on 45th St. where there was a mob hit. Call it an East Coast thing.
I don’t blame Edgar Wright. He’s a famous director, he can get financing and distribution, and this was his passion. He loves music. “Baby Driver” is one of the great films of this century. So more power to him. He’s probably planning a narrative film based on the doc, with Ansel Elgort playing both Maels. I wouldn’t miss it.