The Sparks brothers on their Jacques Tati collaboration that never was

Ron and Russell Mael came close to working with the legendary French director in the 1970s.


Charles Bramesco


One of the reasons that the members of Sparks enjoy such a strong following in the film community, as the new doc The Sparks Brothers explains, is that they’ve always drawn from cinematic reference points in their own work. It’s all too apropos that Ron and Russell Mael would lend their talents to Leos Carax for the new film Annette, but in the brothers’ interview with LWLies, they discuss a little-known collaboration that never quite came together.

Russell recounts a period in the ’70s when their UK label Island Records had the canny idea to reach out to Jacques Tati about the possibility of a link-up with the Sparks boys, having observed that their “two little universes” were “running side by side in a certain way”. At the time, Tati was working on a never-to-be-completed film titled Confusion, about a rural and somewhat incompetent French television station trying to up their game to compete with the big dogs; Ron and Russell were to play a pair of American consultants brought in to facilitate the upgrade.

The Mael brothers recall meeting with Tati several times during this period, during which the filmmaker detailed his frustrations securing funding for his idiosyncratic projects and left them with a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir. As Russell recalls, “[In Sweden,] they had a real bond with Tati, so they asked us to come and do a TV show together with him and there were no parameters to it. He said, ‘They must get a white horse for me!’ We don’t remember tonnes about it… there’s been so much research done trying to find the archival footage but no one can find it, not in Swedish TV… We remember the white horse and just him wanting to interact with this horse, and then us doing our thing, whatever that is.”

Humorously, Ron recalls Tati as looking just like his character Monsieur Hulot (“the tan overcoat, and that kinda gait”) and appreciating his propensity for taking public transportation as a way of observing humanity in an unguarded state. “We would go out to dinner with him and he would kind of mimic – not in a cruel way – the movements of the waitress and all,” Ron says.

He concludes, “We’re so disappointed that it didn’t work out, but we cherish the time that we were able to work with him.” We may now be tormented by the thought of the Sparks-Tati joint that never was, but for the mean time, Carax’s Annette should be more than a sufficient alternative.

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Published 30 Jul 2021

Tags: Jacques Tati Ron Mael Russell Mael Sparks

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