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This is Sparklehorse – Documentary.

Documentary review: ‘This is Sparklehorse’
By Gavin Fearnley

It’s somehow hard to begin writing about Mark Linkous without talking about the end.

Do you ever wonder? What was he thinking when he picked up that gun? Aiming at his heart, pulling the trigger. What was he thinking?

The American singer and songwriter, best known for his acclaimed work with Sparklehorse – having reportedly just received some upsetting text messages – may not have been thinking anything.

At the same time though, 12 years ago, he might have also been consumed by pitch black anguish.

Previous to Linkous’ untimely and tragic death at 47, there were similar questions in connection with how he ever managed to create his ghostly, out-of-time musical output.

Petit, precious, supernatural-like offcuts of what still sound like the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Other artists blithely write “tunes”. Rolling Stone once labelled Sparklehorse as “imaginative ambient psych-folk”.

But Linkous didn’t just write fucking melodies.

Troubled by melancholy and at least one self-inflicted ailment, he seemed to be able turn his personal agonies into sheer beauty. In many ways, like Mark Rothko or Edvard Munch.

He created mindscapes and entire worlds of enchanting subtlety. Very often with very little other than a piano, a guitar and a simple drum beat.

Twelve years after his suicide, one can still listen to deceptively simple songs like ‘Hundreds of Sparrows’ (“My spirit’s rarely in my body”), ‘See the Light’ (“The stars all fell into the sea”) and ‘Sea of Teeth’ (“Can you taste the crush of a sunset’s dying blush?“) and wonder how much thought went into this.

Was this thoughtless, effortless natural ability? Mere facile genius? Or the result of hours … days … years of deep self-reflection?

Now, thanks to a new breathtakingly tender and beautifully crafted documentary, we’re closer to getting some answers.

‘This is Sparklehorse’, released via the Vimeo streaming platform on 15 October 2022, has been eleven years in the making.

Brought to us by British filmmakers Alex Crowton and Bobby Dass, and heavily assisted by Mark Linkous’ friend and collaborator Angela Faye Martin (who narrates), tales on the late multi-instrumentalist’s life are finally revealed for the first time.

The film features interviews with the director David Lynch, members of Mercury Rev, PJ Harvey associate John Parish, Ed Harcourt, Gemma Hayes, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, and somewhat surprisingly for this article’s UK-based readers … the broadcaster Matthew Wright (yes, that Matthew Wright).


While these are all fascinating accounts (Lynch’s and Lytle’s takes on Linkous are particularly insightful, having been two of the last people to collaborate with him) some of the most interesting sections come from his brother (Matt) and archive interview footage of Mark Linkous himself.

The first time this author saw Sparklehorse, in 1996, Linkous was on stage in a wheelchair.

The film reminds us Mark was unable to use his legs for several months.

In ‘This is Sparklehorse’, listening to a close family member describing how this came to be is not only heart breaking, but also a little unsettling.

But the film doesn’t exploit this.

Instead, it encourages us to understand. To catch a glimpse of what was actually going on, away from treasured recordings.

There are more than a few parallels here to 2016’s ‘Walking in the Opposite Direction’, an equally urgent and piercing documentary about The Sound’s Adrian Borland; an artist more than just troubled by his own thoughts, somehow channelling them to produce beguiling music and ultimately ending it all in his forties.

Yes, these are upsetting themes. Yes, ‘This is Sparklehorse’ is sometimes hard to watch. Yet ultimately, it is a celebration of a man’s brilliance.

We’ll never know what Mark Linkous was thinking when he took a shotgun to his chest.

But thanks to ‘This is Sparklehorse’, there’s one thing we do know: twelve years later, we’re still thinking of Mark Linkous.

This is Sparklehorse is released via Vimeo on 15 October.

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