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Sunday, June 26th, 2011


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In his introduction to the LA Film Fest’s one night only live performance of The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, KCRW radio host Michael Silverblatt promised an evening of lunacy, and he wasn’t far wrong.  Featuring songs by venerable LA rock band Sparks, and directed by filmmaker Guy Maddin, this avant garde musical bubbles with creative energy and offers up an irresistible storyline.  With a group of 14 actors in tow (including Ann Magnuson as Greta Garbo!) a packed house at the Ford Amphitheater got to imagine what might have happened if Ingmar Bergman had left Sweden for Hollywood.

Bergman, the director of such serious minded fare as The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, and Persona, did have his lighter side.  His 1956 film, Smiles of a Summer Night, was given a prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “poetic comedy”.  Maddin and the Mael Brothers (who make up Sparks) use this unlikely accolade as the jumping off point for their story.  In the musical,  Bergman only hears about the prize after the fact (he’s hard at work on his next project, of course) and he goes for a walk to clear his head.  Against his better judgment, he enters a movie theater which is showing an American action film.  After a few minutes, he leaves in disgust, only to find himself magically transported to Hollywood, where he finds an aggressive studio head begging for his services.

Maddin has plans to direct a film version of Seduction, which should be magical if he can create some semblance of what was achieved at the Ford on Saturday night.  The director contributed to the performance by reading the stage directions aloud.  Armed with a tiny video camera, he also appeared to leave his microphone at the edge of the stage now and then in order to capture footage of the action on stage.  Visually speaking, the presentation was simple but effective, with a video screen above providing a wide range of arresting images.  Shots of the real life Bergman and his family alternated with pages from the script and the occasional image of iconic Hollywood locales like the Beverly Hills Hotel.  One sequence in particular, in which Bergman is chased by police down Sunset Blvd until he gets to the Santa Monica pier, should make for fascinating fodder in Maddin’s hands.  It’s unclear what sort of budget will be available for the film version, but the idea of a Guy Maddin directing an extended action sequence is fascinating, to say the least.

Bergman angst is brought to life with a lively performance by Finnish actor Peter Franzen.  After the show concluded, the Maels took the time to introduce the cast and informed the audience that Franzen was a “household name in Helsinki”.  The elder Mael quipped, “I’m a household name in my household.”

Fans of Sparks will love The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.  The songs are perfectly paired to the story, whether they’re reflecting Bergman’s angst or celebrating his triumphant return to Stockholm.  Both Mael brothers were in fine form, and one hopes that Maddin will be lucky enough to cast them in the film version as well.  Guitarists Jim Wilson and Marcus Blake were also on hand to provide additional musical muscle.

The creators were smart not too dwell too much on the minutiae of Bergman’s long career.  All the exposition required is given in the first couple of scenes, after which Maddin and the Maels hook the audience by painting their story in broad strokes.  The dreamlike nature of the story should translate well to the screen, and Maddin would seem to be the perfect director for it.  Kudos is due to the programmers of the LA Film Fest for mounting such an adventurous presentation.  The festival programs put on at the Ford are always a treat, but The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman will be tough to top.

Written by Jefferson Root on 06/26 at 12:13 AM