WHO: Sparks' The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman

WHERE: Ford Amphitheateer

WHEN: 6/25/11

Just to recap the slightly complicated scenario, Sparks' The Seduction of Ingmar BergmaN, as presented at Ford Amphitheater on Saturday evening, was a staged read-through of a planned film based on a production originally performed as a radio play in Sweden … got that? Director Guy Maddin read the outlines of the story and guided the actors through their paces as Sparks' Ron Mael led the band through the piece's sprightly multi-movements while Maddin's L.A./Sweden -referential collage imagery was projected on a screen. Taken altogether, it produced quite an amusing and even at times rather deep spectacle. In other words, this was a genuine night at the opera.

Ron and Russell Mael's yarn of the famed film director leaving Sweden for Hollywood is a well-structured, easily followed fable in which Bergman (Finnish actor Peter Franzen) is tempted and prodded and pushed and pulled by studio chiefs (a charmingly viscous Russell Mael), fawning fans, flacks, concierges and shapely “welcoming committees,” all of whom would have our serious auteur bring some of that delicious Euro art-film angst to their twinkly little town, where he could make blockbuster movies with big budgets and loads of special effects. Bergman spends a lot of time mulling over the possibilities; of course he spends a lot of time agonizing over the cost of such a move, too. Would he sell his soul? And what is his soul, exactly? Indeed, is there a God? He can't help himself, he's sucked into the maelstrom.

An ensemble of 14 actors included Ann Magnuson as Greta Garbo and perhaps the most entertaining of the entire bunch, Ron Mael himself, as Bergman's obsequious chauffeur. Visually and aurally it glued together well, an uncluttered, simple affair with the filmed imagery providing both semi-oblique angles (infra-redlike images of palm trees and Hollywood locales like the Beverly Hills Hotel, cut-ups of vintage Swedish seaside shots and/or Bergman gazing out a window, thinking) and snatches of the libretto, which was helpful as some of the actors' vocal articulation got a bit lost in the amphitheater's open-air acoustics. Mention should be made of the precision and power provided by guitarist Jim Wilson, bassist Marcus Blake and drummer Tammy Glover.

Interesting: Maddin was shooting much of the action on his mini-digital cam throughout the proceedings. It'll be intriguing to see how a full-fledged film of the production will transform under his sensuously skewed vision. If it's got just a teensy bit of the sheer invention and vitality of this version, it oughtta be a triumph.

LA Weekly