Monday, 4 April 2011
1977: ABBA – The Movie: a musical spectacle without much frills
On Saturday morning, the ABBA movie had its European premiere in the big movie theatre of the City venue. One day before that, the movie was screened for the very first time in Australia, the country where it was mostly filmed. Next week, the rest of the world will follow like a ‘forest fire’. ‘ABBA – The Movie’, as the feature film is simply called, will be screened in fourteen Dutch cinemas coming Thursday. Among other places, the following cities will get a copy: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Den Bosch, Nijmegen, Deventer and Zwolle. Without any doubt, the cinemas in these cities will be packed with people the coming weeks, because - like most anything else that comes from the ABBA factory - the movie is aimed at a large audience. It is a very commercial product, that actually doesn’t have any weak spots. Or it would have to be the commercialism that it radiates. They kept the story quite simple. Director and scriptwriter Lasse Hallström, the man who has made all promotional films for the Swedish quartet in the past, actually only filmed ABBA. He used an Australian DJ, played by Robert Hughes, as a glue to piece all the scenes together. DJ Ashley gets the assignment from his boss to have an exclusive and very extensive interview with the popular group for the radio station that he works for. The programme is scheduled to be broadcast on the day that the Swedes leave Australia. Of course, he doesn’t manage to get that exclusive interview and Ashley tags along with the four Swedes. This way, Hallström gets the opportunity to use something from each concert in the movie. It is clear that the movie for the most part consists of the concert performances by Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn and Agnetha. Practically all songs from ‘Arrival’ have been captured like that. Furthermore, a couple of songs from ABBA’s formative years and to top things off, five truly marvellous songs that will appear - later on in January - on the new album that carries a title that is at least as simple as the title of the movie, namely ‘ABBA – The Album’. The movie is filmed entirely on 16 millimeter film and this was blown up later on in the studio to wide screen Cinemascope. For one year, Hallström worked on editing the vast amount - sixty hours - of rough material that he filmed during the concerts in Australia. You can see the fruits of this long editing period in the end result, because there are no mistakes in the movie. Although they faced quite a few difficulties in recording the sound. In Sydney, it rained so hard that the tapes mainly consisted of the sound of rain pouring down and far away in the distance you could hear ABBA. Still they succeeded to straighten things out in the recording studio. And meanwhile the equalization remained perfect. The rest of the editing is done impeccably too. The filmed scenes are outstanding and the sound - thanks to the studio trickery - is perfect. The only downside is probably - but which ABBA fan pays attention to that - the enormous music machine that rolls over the spectator. Quite rightly, remarks are being made afterwards that this could all be too much. “The audience doesn’t get any time to catch their breath; time to make preparations to listen to the next ABBA song,” according to one of the reactions. That might be true, but on the other hand this is of course a music movie and this is understood very well by the clever manager of the group, often proclaimed the fifth ABBA, Stig Anderson. He set out to make this movie a musical spectacle without too much frills. And he succeeded. Before the movie will be screened in those fourteen cinemas next Thursday, Veronica will get the opportunity to dig into the group’s past a little bit more. The past that begins with the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton (1974) when the quartet was still easily approachable for journalists. Now that’s no longer possible. The news about the group is being spread in the newspapers by the Swedish company Polar Records (owned by ABBA). Interviews are no longer possible. And who can blame them, because the group has achieved so much fame in the past (almost) four years - fifty million records were sold - that they wouldn’t know where to start. There is a slight possibility that ABBA will come to Holland in May next year. The group is working on a mini musical that they want to stage during their next tour. Some parts of it were featured already during the tour earlier this year but Benny, Björn and Stig have allegedly finetuned the musical part of this performance. Before they will perform it on an official tour, the Swedish group wants to try it out first. And they have chosen Amsterdam for that. If this concert - the second one in our country - will fail to happen, then we will have to wait until 1980, because America is the first thing on their schedule. Except for television performances, the group has never performed a live concert over there yet.