“Street Gang” will eventually air on HBO, which now owns “Sesame Street,” so nobody would expect this to be a warts-and-all documentary. But it is rarely sentimental and surprisingly straightforward in detailing how a bunch of talented people, in the right place at the right time, could create something truly magical. As somebody says of Cooney on a talk show, “What she’s doing is what television would do if it loved people instead of selling to them.”
“They’d make really good Muppets,” somebody says of Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks during the documentary “The Sparks Brothers,” and I’m eternally grateful to director Edgar Wright for including that line so I’d have such a natural segue in this article.
But it’s true. The onstage personae of the Maels, who have performed together as Ron and Russell Sparks for a half-century, are larger than life. With his matinee-idol good looks, Russell looked like a typical teen heartthrob in the ‘70s and ‘80s, bounding around the stage in a jumpsuit as he sang. Ron, meanwhile, cultivated a more sinister air, with his slicked-back hair, Chaplinesque (or Hitleresque) mustache, and wordless smirks. It was like both the popular kids at school and the outcasts had a brother whose face they could put on their bedroom walls.
At least, they could have if they had ever gotten their due. But Sparks refused to follow the changing trends of pop music — they seemed like a British band even though they were from Southern California, and were making ‘80s synth records back in the ‘70s. If their stubbornness cost them mainstream success, it also created generations of devoted fans who saw how influential and daring — and how just plain funny — their brand of art-pop is.