Set in a sunshine-drenched Eden, California, the brothers Mael from pop visionaries Sparks play themselves playing other people in this story of a young man (played with faux-naive longing by Russell Mael) who decides to embark on an epic journey around the world to find his true love. Shot at weirdly unnerving truck-stops and motels, Pretzel Nipple gathers in a feel of a day-glo Lolita, as Mael, all listless lust and lovesick in excelsis seeks his true mate. He meets along the way a waitress with a wooden leg (Terri Garr), a science prodigy addicted to drinking water (Michael Keaton) and a mafia hoodlum who cries himself to sleep (Mickey Rooney). His fortunes begin to perk up when he runs into a mute pianist in a dive bar (inevitably played by Ron Mael) who seems to somehow karmically inflect Russell with good luck, while absorbing all the slapstick ill-fortune himself.
After accidentally stealing a case from Rooney containing a happy-drug known ridiculously as Crypto-Fashia, they form a successful travelling medicine show selling the pharmaceutical across the Midwest. Their sales-pitch is augmented by song performances of several Sparks originals, and contain the absurdist truths of love sadness that the band deal in: 'Pretzel Nipple', ('If she needs a bite she comes to me/ Pretzel Nipple! Pretzel Nipple!'), 'Love Search Party' (Love Search Party/ Search Party of One/ If she's not here/ My loins will go home') and 'Sickening Sects' ('Stick Insects/ Have sickening sex/ But your love will never hurt me') are all genuine Sparks classics. In 'Parody/Pastiche', Russell unveils some of the most hilariously desperate lines as he attempts to woo a girl in a bar (played by Theresa Russell). To wit: 'I'm in a film in Hollywood/ but if you're not sure that you would/ then I should also like to say/ I arm-wrestled Hemingway/ And although I didn't win/ I was not humiliated/ And we spent the night on gin/ talking of girls we have dated/ And although he tallied more/ Mine had style with their shyness/ but nothing next to you/ with your when-what-how-who-whyness'; and: 'If 'baby' is your name/ Same as my favourite ex/ Our futures must be intertwined/ In interplanetary sex'.
The performances from Russell Mael are giddy and helium-edged, and as the brothers continue across America making money, he becomes disillusioned as his search for love continues to throw up duds (cue 'Probability of Finding The Zillionth Girl', with his attempt to work out the chances of meeting his one-in-six-billion love: 'I met twenty today, twenty yesterday, twenty the day before/ At this rate I'll need to live for two-hundred years more', before optimistically concluding that if they keep on travelling, his chances grow with every day: Show me the maths, oh Fibonacci/ That prove I'll walk tall in golden Versace/ With my baby on the grass/ Pythagoras is a gas, gas, gas'.
He finds his girl at the top of a mountain, reached when the Maels are sucked through a washing machine into a secret world. The girl (Jane Wiedlin) suggests that they seal their love by eating each other, and they do, singing 'Pretzel Nipple' as they go, this time with an added breakdown (the title sung defiantly to the tune of 'Bread of Heaven') as their animated heads, all that is left of them now, drift into space, licking and chewing each other.
Tim Burton acted as a cameraman on the film, and the tone and story arc is an obvious influence on his Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, released two tears later. The marriage of musical numbers and increasingly disparate narrative means that the psychadelic ending actually makes a perverse sense, and the desperation, pain and wit of the Sparks world prevents the whole affair from slipping into whimsy or silly Zappa-parody/pastiche.
Pretzel Nipple Directed by: Ron Aufberger Produced by: Dwayne House Written by: Jeff Sycke Total Head Pictures /Warner Bros Pictures Starring: Russell Mael, Jane Wiedlin, Ron Mael, Mickey Rooney, Michael Keaton, Terri Garr Music by: Ron Mael Release Date US: October 1983 Release Date UK: N/A RunningTime: 92mins Tagline: 'If She Needs A Snack She Comes To Me!'