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ABBA - the Movie

ABBA - the Movie(1977)

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ABBA - the Movie (1977)

A November 10, 2004 CNN post declared that ABBA, the Swedish pop superstars that disbanded in 1981, would not be getting together for a 30th year re-union. The article also noted that "Four years ago they turned down an offer of $1 billion to re-form" and quoted singer Bjorn Ulvaeus as saying "Just look at our videos - That energy, that drive, that enthusiasm. You just wouldn't see that anymore if the four of us got on stage today. It's just not there." Those willing to take Bjorn up on the challenge of watching ABBA videos will notice one name behind most of these promo clips; Lasse Hallstrm, the Swedish director behind such films as My Life as a Dog (1985), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and The Shipping News (2001), among others, including an early feature called ABBA: The Movie (1977).

ABBA: The Movie is a playful concoction that mixes actual concert footage of ABBA performing around Australia in March of 1977 with a thin narrative that follows a disc jockey by the name of Ashley (played by Robert Hughes, who later worked in various Australian TV shows) working against the clock to secure an interview with the band. Ashley's desperation is fueled by the fact that his job is at stake, and also due to his efforts being repeatedly foiled. Most viewers will probably find the interludes with the persistent disc jockey an irritation and an unnecessary distraction, but it does serve the purpose of providing a medium by which some superficial information about the band and their success can be relayed to the novice.

The film does a few interesting things, beginning with a cramped flat presentation which introduces us to Ashley that is soon thereafter stretched open to reveal a Panavision wide-screen format to introduce ABBA - preceding a similar motif by Douglas Trumbull, used in Brainstorm (1983), where he would switch between different film formats to punch up desired moments. There is also an abundant use of the splitscreen, made popular in Woodstock (1970), and there are even some fantasy and dream sequences tossed in for good measure. While these attempts to spice up the proceedings will do little to convince non-fans that ABBA could rise above a bland stage show that was carried mostly by pleasant vocals and, secondly, by some measure of gloss and frilly white costumes, the overall effect does serve to pump up the seventies time-capsule vibe that saw ABBA at the peak of its career.

ABBA is an acronym derived from the first names of its members Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Agnetha and Bjorn were married in July of 1971 (divorced 1979), while Benny and Anni-Frid were married in October of 1978 (and divorced in 1981). Their initial collaboration began in 1970 with a cabaret act called Festfolk (a word whose double-meaning could be interpreted as either "party people" or "engaged couples"). As the group climbed its way up the ladder and changed its name a few other times it finally got to the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest, where their song "Ring Ring" garnered third place. The next year they officially took on ABBA as their name and their song "Waterloo" took them all the way to the Eurovision finals. According to "ABBA - The Site," a good internet repository for band info, "ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company, which luckily agreed to lending their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974 turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history, when the group won the international juries over with 'Waterloo'. " And the rest, as they say, is history.

Aside from the concert footage and back-stage snippets afforded by the film, ABBA fans have another reason to seek out this particular film according to another website titled "The Secret Guide to ABBA: The Movie":

Many ABBA books over the years (starting with ABBA for the Record in 1980) have listed three mysterious instrumental songs that are supposed to be heard in ABBA - The Movie , 'Johan pa snippen', 'Polkan gar', and 'Stoned'. They have often been described as "traditional" tunes 'Johan pa snippen' is the Swedish "polka" tune played in the backstage dressing room 'Polkan gar' is heard very quietly in the background of the very next scene 'Stoned' is heard very quietly during the scene when ABBA are in the hotel room (in "Perth") reading the reviews of the Sydney concert.

The above excerpt puts "Perth" in quotes due to obvious liberties taken while filming the tour. Liberties that included only shooting Agnetha above the neck for most of the film (due to a pregnancy) or strategically obscured newspaper headlines trying to hide the headline "AGNETHA'S BOTTOM TOPS DULL SHOW." Such cynicism is surely easily shrugged off by the kind of avid fan base that sold over 26 million copies of the 1992 compilation CD titled ABBA Gold and that also recently helped make Mama Mia! (based on ABBA songs) one of Broadway's most popular shows. Similarly, while ABBA: The Movie won't make converts out of nonbelievers, it does capture a moment of seventies innocence in amber and is sure to please fans looking for a dose of clean and upbeat music.

Producer: Stikkan Andersson, Reg Grundy
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Screenplay: Robert Caswell, Lasse Hallstrom
Cinematography: Jack Churchill, Paul Onorato
Film Editing: Lasse Hallstrom, Malou Hallstrom, Ulf Neidemar
Music: Benny Andersson, Stikkan Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus
Cast: Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Stikkan Andersson.
C-97m. Letterboxed.

by Pablo Kjolseth

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