CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Blaxploitation, Drama
  • 1976
  • 98 mins

Sparkle

Sparkle

Synopsis

Three Harlem sisters sing their way out of the ghetto in this cult musical drama. Featuring early appearances from Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas and a great soul soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield

About

Read more blaxploitation reviews on Film4.com

Sparkle is a backstage musical drama from 1975 that's built up a solid cult following over the years, especially among black audiences. Fans created an online petition to get the film released on DVD in 2004, but it took the success of Dreamgirls to set the Warner Brothers' cogs in motion. Like Dreamgirls, the film tracks the undulating fortunes of a Supremes-style vocal trio trying to make it in the soul explosion of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The story opens in 1958 as three Harlem siblings - Sister (McKee), Delores (Smith) and Sparkle (Cara) - form a group called Sister And The Sisters. Pushed hard by Sparkle's boyfriend - songwriter/manager Stix (Thomas) - the trio graduate rapidly through the local live music scene. They look great together, their songs are fresh and catchy, the harmonies are tight as a gnat's chuff and in Sister they have a natural born pop goddess singing lead. How can they fail?

You know what's coming. Written by Joel Schumacher, (Flatliners, Falling Down, Batman & Robin) Sparkle's plot was tired even back in 1975. Today it's as stale as a Cliff Richard Christmas single. Sure enough drugs, infighting, an abusive boyfriend and financial corruption derail the group. Only one of the sisters has the inner strength to rise up from the wreckage to fulfil her dream. Which one? The clue's in the title.

Therein lies Sparkle's fundamental flaw. Irene Cara gives a decent enough performance in the title role, describing the youngest sibling's journey from church choir mouse to pop soul diva with endearing sincerity. But compared to Sister's iconic mix of mesmerising beauty, belligerent stage presence, God-given vocal talent and destructive self-loathing, Sparkle's character is flatter than a Meatloaf wail. The way that Schumacher's script quickly sacrifices Sister (and the fabulous Lonette McKee) to follow Sparkle's inane story is in keeping with a film that, for its title and subject matter, is almost perversely lacking in theatrical glitz.

The Supremes and their ilk won over audiences with a level of glamour and sophistication that has rarely been matched, a fact that seems to have eluded the makers of Sparkle. Dingy interiors serve the movie well to begin with, evoking the claustrophobia of poverty from which the sisters hope to escape. But as the group climbs the showbiz ladder, the film's miserly production values stay in the bargain basement. It's hard to believe the girls are living the dream when performances at a supposedly swanky nightclub are staged and lit with all the pizzazz of amateur night at the village hall.

Ultimately, of course, a musical lives or dies by its tunes. Sparkle's soundtrack, written and produced by the late, great, funk soul brother Curtis Mayfield, ensures that the film's popularity will endure. It contains an embarrassment of riches including 'Jump', 'Rock With Me', 'Loving You Baby', 'I Get High', 'Look Into Your Heart' and '(Giving Him) Something He Can Feel', which is surely one of the best tracks ever to be written specifically for a movie.

In the film, the songs are well performed by the talented cast. However, for the accompanying soundtrack album, Mayfield brought in Aretha Franklin to sing lead vocals. The US Sparkle DVD comes with an extra CD that includes five of their sublime collaborations. If Warners had been as generous with their UK release, recommending it would have been a no-brainer.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Lonette McKee, Philip Michael Hall, Mary Alice, Irene Cara, Dorian Harewood, Dwan Smith
  • Director: Sam O'Steen
  • Screen Writer: Joel Schumacher
  • Writer (Story): Howard Rosenman
  • Producer: Howard Rosenman
  • Photographer: Bruce Surtees
  • Composer: Curtis Mayfield

In a nutshell

Drab as it is, Sparkle's worth renting for Lorette McKee's performance and the cast renditions of Mayfield's songs. But if you're going to buy anything it should be the soundtrack album.

by Billy Mowbray

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Win Win

    Win Win

    Paul Giamatti stars as a struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach who takes in his client's troubled grandson

    On Film4: 2 Dec 1:45AM

  • Film4 The Drop

    The Drop

    Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace star in a feature-length adaptation of a short crime story by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), directed by Belgian filmmaker Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead)

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 11 recommendations for LFF 14

    Unfortunately I haven¿t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that¿s what makes the London Film Festival¿s compilation approach to progr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Michael Leader's 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

    One of the best things about the London Film Festival¿s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there¿s an eclectic collection of exciting films o

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share