During the climax to Sparks’ 22nd full-length album, the musical masterpiece The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, the titular hero, lost in a constrictive Hollywood of the 1950s, is escorted to a movie theater by Greta Garbo, the very embodiment of Sweden. “And as Garbo and I entered the theater, I felt a sense of both calm and expectation.” I felt the very same upon my entrance into the Ford Amphitheater last week for the live enactment of the album-turned-film-to-be, a special presentation courtesy of the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival.
With an admiration for Sparks that borders on the obsessive, I was already quite familiar with Seduction. In the late summer of 2009 I flew to Stockholm to attend the World Premiere of the album, which consisted of myself and a theater full of Swedes listening to the record as it was broadcast across the country. Earlier that year I flew to Tokyo to see Sparks perform Exotic Creatures of the Deep and Kimono My House in their entirety back-to-back; easily the most memorable concert I’ve ever attended. A few members of the backing band from that show were part of the L.A. spectacular as were members of previous incarnations of Sparks including former Faith No More guitarist Dean Menta and drummer extraordinaire Tammy Glover, both of whom were members of one of my personal favorite Sparks lineups.
Seduction is the fictional story of Ingmar Bergman (played live by actor Peter Franzen, “the most famous actor in Finland”) who is transported to Hollywood after the immense success of Smiles of a Summer Night at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival (in reality, Bergman was actually unaware of the fact that his film had played the festival, he learned of this via a Swedish newspaper article…one of many interesting anecdotes that can be found on Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film). Predictably, Bergman’s sensibilities don’t mesh with the snotty starlets and controlling studio chiefs and thus begins his frantic attempt to return to a Sweden that has seemingly disappeared in his absence. Highlights of the musical include a tour of the studio commissary in which the studio head (Russell Mael) introduces Bergman to successful expatriate directors Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, and Jacques Tourneur as well as the above-mentioned climax featuring Greta Garbo (played by singer/actress Ann Magnuson, pictured below). The soon-to-be-filmed screenplay was read aloud throughout the production by director Guy Maddin (I’m sure Cinedelphia readers are already familiar with one of world cinema’s greatest living filmmakers), who sports a full beard these days that makes him difficult to recognize. The show’s finale featured a joyous sing-along with the entire cast that will surely be the only time I will ever experience a theater full of people chanting the name “Bergman! Bergman!”. A remarkable musical and a memorable experience thanks to Mr. Maddin, Sparks, and the L.A. Film Fest. I’m excited at the prospects of having a new favorite film in the near future.