L.A.'s own veteran pop duo Sparks, brothers Ron and Russell Mael, bring the world premiere of a staged version of their latest project, a radio drama called The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, to the Los Angeles Film Festival Saturday night.
The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman is a musical composed for radio, a wild "what-if" fantasy in which we find Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman mysteriously transported from a movie theater in Stockholm to Hollywood, where he faces the all-too-familiar temptation of compromising his artistic vision for fame and fortune.
The piece was originally commissioned by the Swedish National Radio, and the Maels premiered the radio drama in front of a live audience in a theater in Sweden in 2009. "The only stipulation that they put on it is that it had to have something to do with Sweden in some way," Ron explained. "So we fished around in our limited knowledge of Swedish culture. We were familiar with Ingmar Bergman--when we went to university we saw most of his films--and we love that sort of cinema."
This exploration of what would've happened if Hollywood had come calling for Bergman begins after he wins the "Best Poetic Humor" award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival for Smiles of a Summer Night. After he takes the Cannes prize, Bergman feels an odd impulse to experience "escapist art of the worst sort: a typical American action film," and enters a theater in Stockholm only to be whisked away involuntarily to California where he's forced to deal with fast-talking studio executives.
A long-time Sparks fan, Canadian director Guy Maddin has signed on to direct a film adaptation of the musical, and will provide stage directions for the L.A.F.F. event at the John Anson Ford Theatre.
"I'd been researching the Maels as film forces for a lost film project that I'm in the middle of--lost, aborted and unrealized films," Maddin said. "At one point they were slated to make a picture with Jacques Tati back in the '70s. I think I discovered them in 1974 when they were just a few albums old. I'd kept in touch with them because I liked the fact that they're really hard working and kept evolving but still kept what I'd loved about them in the first place."
The Winnipeg virtuoso is a fantastic fit for the project. Maddin's own work is steeped in fantasy, an amalgamation of absurdities--though many of his works actually have roots in reality--and grand melodramatic moments.
"Guy has that same sort of vision with his films where he's just in his own little world and we really like that world a lot," Russell said. "Visually it's amazing and the stories--you know The Saddest Music in the World?--they're really unusual stories and sometimes even having--especially with that film--a musical element to it where it wouldn't be such a stretch to see him doing The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman which is a full blown musical even though it's pretty idiosyncratic too."
"I've always been interested in the occult way in which music and image work together," Maddin said. "No one can ever figure it out, I don't think. There's no formula. It's not quantifiable. So I thought, well, why not try to make it happen with this project, which was already pretty cinematic. After all, it had its premiere in a theater with a blank screen and so people were listening to The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman and sitting in their seats looking at blankness so they were obviously seeing things through the music."
After a long break from acting, the Maels will appear in The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman in various supporting roles, with Maddin providing stage direction. Ron was slated to play Bergman himself in the early stages, but has since ceded the role to Finnish actor Peter Franzen.
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"It's a big fever dream so it makes sense that the creators of the opera themselves actually serve as sort of footmen; that they're at every level of the hierarchy of this thing," Maddin said. "They're chauffeurs and executives and composers and performers as well. It's a nice way of knitting the composers right into the performance by actors and singers."
The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman is a project few bands--even those who've been around as long as Sparks--would undertake, and it's creative work like this that explain how the band has managed to outlast so many other pop acts.
"Within our world, we're trying to keep it incredibly fresh, and I think The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman forces us to do something that we haven't done before," Russell said. "I think doing something that makes you a little uncomfortable as far as what the results will be, those are the things that end up having the best possibility of being something really fresh sounding."
LOS ANGELES FILMFORUM PRESENTS SPARKS' THE SEDUCTION OF INGMAR BERGMAN AT L.A. FILM FESTIVAL ON SATURDAY, JUNE 26TH AT 8:30PPM AT THE JOHN ANSON FORD THEATRE IN HOLLYWOOD.