Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ABBA: The Movie (1977)

A Reader Request (Long time in coming...and Happy Birthday Stephen G!)

I should warn you up front: Jeg elsker ABBA! [imagine beating cartoon hearts here] I just love them. And not in the way most people do, bopping around ironically or with retro amusement to "Dancing Queen" or "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!". I mean I actually love ABBA. I'd make them breakfast in the morning. My love isn't camp-based or fleeting or based on one fun song. I know their first and last names. I've listened to Swedish interviews. I've seen all of their videos. I've bought box sets. I think they're musical geniuses... possibly the most perfect pop group that ever existed. Despite my ABBAlicious feelings, I've never seen this movie.

So I've decided to share the experience with you as I live it. Live Blogging.

Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Frida's pre-show jitters

Why haven't I seen it? Well, I'm allergic to director Lasse Halström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News) and I blame ABBA for setting him loose on the world. This was his first major film you see. I have also avoided the smash Broadway jukebox musical Mamma Mia! I considered it blasphemy when it premiered and reviews didn't endear me to it. The plotline alone gives me hives: a young girl wants her father to walk her down the aisle but her mom was a big whore and it could be any one of three men; They all come to her wedding in Greece. What is this Lace: The Musical !?!

That being said, my genuine unshakeable delight in Meryl Streep, especially when she's singing, has prompted me to set all my qualms aside and be excited for the movie version. I like the idea of Streep as a former floozy with a daughter who looks just like yummy Amanda Seyfried.

Does Your Mother Know that you read and comment on this blog?


Anonymous said...

ergh... the shipping news. I just watched that movie over the weekend, my god it was bad. didn't the novel win a pulizer?

Anonymous said...

people outside america often fail to recognise how great ABBA were for the rest of the world.

They are revered by fans and critics alike in Britain and like you said Nathaniel-are perhaps the purest and best pop band EVER.

Some have even compared their simple but complex chords to mozart
and agnetha and frida-will there EVER be a pair like them

and meryl singing to abba. Thats another dream. I have heard rumours of ABBA reforming when meryl visits sweden for the premiere of mamma mia.

That apparently is how much agnetha respects meryl because she has been a virtual recluse ever since their break up


Anonymous said...

Lace: The Musical, god i'm too old and i've watched too much TV that i got it.


magicub ... that's how i felt writing this. I'm like. how have i been alive this many years? LOL.

at least I don't remember ABBA while they were "happening" ha ha

franlinbuth --i think so yes. I don't get it. But then, you can't really hold the movie against the book and the book i haven't read.

Adam said...

What about "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" I think that might be the one solid Halstrom movie, meaning it doesn't leave me sugar-shocked or completely numb.


oh yeah. I do actually like that one. But the bad is so plentiful that i forget he made that.

but yes, sweet movie that isn't too sugary. plus: dep + dicaprio + steenburgen + JULIETTE LEWIS so, yes, me likey.

par3182 said...

perfect timing, nathaniel. this was aired on tv over the weekend down here as a lead in to the eurovision song contest

as a self-confessed "abba nut" and aussie let me enlighten you on a few things -

"i'm a qantastic bird" - qantas = national airline, bird = female (obviously some airline merchandising tie in). literal translation "i am a female fan of australia's national airline"

down here you needn't be hot nor trashy, just female to qualify as a sheila (see "bird")

i actually went to see this when it was released (yes, i'm old) and i suspect it was when my critical sensibilities first kicked in - i was horrified by the "storyline" (it was more than a boy could take) and just wanted it to be a concert film (since i lived too far away from the big smoke to get to the concert)

the guy who plays ashley later became the star of australia's long running sitcom 'hey dad' which managed the amazing feat of running for years and years and never once being funny

i think abba were bigger here than anywhere else in the world (at least we like to think so) so as disappointing as the film i'm glad they shot it here and captured our love for them - as pointed out in the film, we loved them not only because they were "nice" but also "clean"

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathaniel, this was great and worth the wait :)

Born in 1972 and living in Sydney, ABBA - The Movie was the second time I went to the cinema (the first was for Snow White or somesuch), but the first time I went the week a film opened! I was 5, but I was so there! It was also the first movie I saw more than once at the cinema (when I was 7) and the first movie I bought on video. I was an ABBA fan from 3 or 4 years old (ie pre-irony) and love them still. So I have no critical faculties when it comes to this movie whatever (well besides realising the flimsy story sux).

Part of the appeal is that it's practically a doco of what Australia was like in the 1970s. The concert footage is great, and the lame story just makes me appreciate the concert even more.

ABBA truly were a phenomenon in Australia - more people watched an ABBA special on TV in 1976 than the moon landing in 1969 (!), Fernando was No 1 for 14 weeks etc - and the movie captures that.

If I recall correctly, the story was made up by Hallstrom on the plane to Sydney and kept changing as they went along. There were only about 3 actors, and Hallstrom mapped out the scenes and there was a lot of improv. ABBA were too busy to be involved, so their irritation and bewilderment when Hughes keeps pestering them as the DJ in some scenes is genuine!

Dame James said...

I'm also a huge fan of ABBA, but I couldn't stomach the movie. I tried to sit through it once, but 20 minutes in I was bored silly. It doesn't have the wit of A Hard Day's Night or the in-bred campiness & stupid/funny humor of Spice World. I admire your strength and perseverance in lasting the full 90 minutes.

FYI, as a die-hard ABBA fan, I saw Mammia Mia! the stage show a few months ago and it was every bit as awful as it could be. They turned "Chiquitita" (my favorite ABBA) song from a dark and haunting number into something light and bubbly to lift the mother's spirits. I wanted to puke. By the end of the show, they just crank out one ABBA Gold number after another.

Anonymous said...

When I say ABBA were too busy to be involved, I mean too busy to be much involved in the making of the movie during the tour, besides being filmed. They picked Hallstrom for the job (he also directed nearly all their videos) and gave him carte blanche while the tour was on.

Later, while they were recording 'ABBA - The Album' (released around the same time as the movie in late 1977), there were pickups in Stockholm and they did overdubs on some of the 'live' tracks.

Glenn said...

I'm gonna read this after I watch the movie, which I have on my DVR just waiting to be watched (as Par said, it aired down to tie in with Eurovision, which is a big deal).

THat it has the guy from Hey, Dad! is both frightening and BRILLIANT!

There's a joke going around that if Mamma Mia can't succeed here in Australia then it can't succeed anywhere. I believe the ABBA Gold album has rarely been out of Australia's Top 100 album chart since it was released. The only thing Australia, seemingly, likes more than ABBA is a greatest hits compilation!

Anonymous said...

Is Frida really your fave member, Nat ? Given your obsession over icy blondes on multiple occasions, i'd have guessed you as an agnethafan :-). I like 'em both equally; agnethe epitomises scandinavion beauty, Frida is queen of cool!


ah but you forget my love of the redheads (kidman, moore, la lohan... initially) ;)

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen The Shipping News or Chocolat (and I probably never will), but Hallström's My Life as a Dog is really, really good.

Catherine said...

Right so, everybody!

Favourite ABBA song

Mine is "Lay All Your Love On Me", I think.

Anonymous said...

"One of Us" was my favorite when I was a kid.

Nowadays... I'd have to go with Catherine's choice as well.


i've already given mine in the article but my second choice might be "One of Us" ... I like the sad ones I guess.

gabrieloak said...

I have to admit I like My Life as a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Casanova, which gave us a lot of Heath Ledger.

A friend of mine who loves ABBA did not like the way Mamma Mia! used ABBA's music. I have seen many musicals in my lifetime but waited until just this year to see Mamma Mia! because the movie is coming out and the wonderful Carolee Carmello is currently playing the lead on Broadway. She can do no wrong but the show is really over the top--everything is overdone. Yet I can see this being an entertaining movie because all the roles have been very well cast as far as I can tell--though I don't know anything about the actress who plays the daughter Sophie. But Streep singing Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen and Winner Takes All will be divine.

whitney said...

I wish I loved ABBA as much as you do. I mean, a few of their songs top my play count on iTunes, but I'm not near as devoted as I need to be. Pop hit after pop hit. ABBA were pop Gods.



gabriel ---i've only seen carolee perform twice but there's some PIPES on that one.

lurkers ---COME ON PEOPLE: there must be more readers who can name an ABBA favorite???????

voting in the two polls in the article tells me that people that I'm losing 50% of readers somewhere in the middle of the article. Was it the Peter Berlin reference? Agnetha's round rump?

I guess three gargantuan pages of ABBA is too much for some people to bear! Their loss.

and does anyone share the fear of those big-footed kangaroo beasties?

Middento said...

Oh my God. I just finished reading. That was high-larious.

Anonymous said...

A great read, though sometimes a bit harsh on the movie, which I adore in spite of itself.

Although you're completely right about its shortcomings, I still forgive it.

I still get chills when I see the screen go WIDE at the start and the music kicks in. Oh to have seen it in IMAX!

Also, enough already with the Hallstrom dissing. My Life As A Dog, Gilbert Grape and Cider House are all supreme if you ask me. And I moderately esteem Chocolat, and don't think it should be entirely blamed for getting a Best Picture nomination that somebody else bought for it. It's still better than your average Ashton Kutcher vehicle!


Glenn said...

Nat, that whole piece was hilarious! As I was watching it last night I kept pointing out the exact same things! The Frida-lessness towards the start, the incompitent DJ, etc.

The parade you mentioned was "Moomba", this weird Melbourne-only festival that celebrates fringe stuff and people jumping off piers dressed like birds.

1. Take a Chance on Me
2. Dancing Queen
3. I'm a Marionette
4. Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)
5. S.O.S.

or something like that. I was definitely disappointed that "Take a Chance" wasn't included in the movie since it was the second (and arguably most popular) single from The Album.

BTW, the film's IMDb plot description is this: "An incompetent radio DJ tries to get an interview with the Swedish pop group during their famous week-long 1977 tour of Australia."


Also, I'd never heard that solo Frida song. It's thoroughly amazing.

Good call on the Madonna thing. Blighty bitch hasn't toured here in nearly 20 years. And she's not touring with her Hard Candy tour either.

par3182 said...

1. knowing me, knowing you
2. dancing queen
3. sos
4. fernando
5. does your mother know?
6. mamma mia


par always has to take it to six

i shall play along

1. the name of the game
2. one of us
3. fernando
4. knowing me knowing you
5. s.o.s.
6. summer night city

Anonymous said...

How is it I am only discovering your blog now? Believe me, I completely understand your feelings about ABBA. I'm probably a couple years older than you because I remember them from day one. Thanks for the movie review; I've still never seen it (intentionally). However, I do love "Mamma Mia", despite it's atrocities.

Their best songs:

Please, number one is so obviously...

"Knowing Me, Knowing You"
"The Winner Takes It All"
"Money Money Money"

and some of the obscure...

"One Man, One Woman"
"Slipping Through My Fingers"
"What About Livingstone"
"Hey Hey Helen" (please YouTube it, it just rocks)