Sparks’ ‘The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman’ moves ahead with Guy Maddin

A film translation of “The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman,” a 2009 radio drama by L.A. pop duo Sparks turned 2010 concept album turned 2011 sparsely staged theatrical production, is moving forward with Canadian director Guy Maddin at the helm.

Sparks lead singer Russell Mael made the announcement Monday night during the twosome’s homecoming performance with his brother (keyboardist and songwriter Ron Mael) at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood to wrap the North American leg of their 2013 tour, which also brought the eccentric pair to the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival last spring.

The backing came together out of the Maels’ trip to the Cannes Film Festival in May — a fitting twist in that “The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman” revolves around a fantasized scenario of Hollywood wooing the great Swedish director following the real-world success of his film “Smiles of a Summer Night” at Cannes in 1956. Bergman wrestles with whether to give in to tempting offers of lavish Hollywood budgets at the potential expense of his artistic integrity.

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“The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman” began as a radio musical drama commissioned by Swedish national radio. The Mael brothers adapted it and released it as an album three years ago, then presented a quasi-staged version in 2011 for the Los Angeles Film Festival. Their goal has long been to see it realized as a film.


“After Cannes, we have attracted several European production companies to join forces with us to see the film happen,” Russell Mael tells Pop & Hiss. “A film production company called Anagram in Sweden is taking the reins there, along with a German company called Medienpark and a Finnish company called Blindspot. Other territories are also joining in as we speak, so the snowball is rolling.”

Maddin has long admired Sparks music, which surfaced for the public in the early 1970s, shortly after the siblings had attended UCLA.

“Apparently before he died, Bergman said he really enjoyed ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Armageddon,’” Maddin told The Times in 2011. “No matter what his taste, at a certain point, at a moment of triumph such as when this ‘Seduction’ is set in 1956, it makes sense that there’d be a crisis in confidence.”

Monday’s show included a mini-set of three songs from the “Bergman” album, along with dramatically reframed arrangements of songs drawn from across their 40-year career, a musical journey surveyed in “New Music for Amnesiacs—The Ultimate Collection,” the recently released four-CD, 81-song boxed set of Sparks’ music.

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That music has consistently examined pop culture’s impact — for better or worse — on people’s lives, typically in humorously revealing ways. In “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’?” the Maels’ cannily make bedfellows of Frank Sinatra and Sid Vicious as they wonder when they’ll get their chance to deliver a life-summarizing musical statement akin to Paul Anka’s over-the-top “My Way.”

And their touchstone for all matters concerning interpersonal relationships is crystallized in the use of the question “What would Katharine Hepburn say?” in the song “Katharine Hepburn.”

Ron Mael dropped his stoic stage persona at the conclusion of the show to say, “We’re L.A. natives, and we really appreciate the support of people in our hometown for things that are challenging and provocative. It means a lot to us.”

Russell Mael then grabbed his cellphone and snapped two photos of his brother with the cheering crowd behind him.

A European leg of the tour starts Nov. 20 in Brussels and continues with stops in London, Paris, Madrid, Spain’s Barcelona, Stockholm and other cities.


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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2