Friday, July 18, 2008

ABBA: The Movie

July 18 marks the US release of Mamma Mia!, the movie based on the songs of ABBA (as turned into a stage musical), the well-known Swedish supergroup of the 1970s. (The movie has been out abroad for some time, having had its world premiere in Sweden back on July 4.) Since I'm in the US, I can't comment on the movie, and I will admit to not yet having seen the stage musical. But if Mamma Mia! doesn't give you your fill of ABBA music -- and heaven knows that ABBA fans, of which I am one, can never get enough -- then find a copy of the original thing, the 1977 concert film ABBA: The Movie.

The reason any concert movie is made is to promote the artist, and ABBA: The Movie is no different. The movie is a document of the group's March, 1977 tour of Australia, a place where they were far more popular than the US. As a 1977 movie, it naturally comes before a lot of ABBA's music (such as the very discofied Voulez-Vous), only featuring perfromances from the Dancing Queen era and before, which might be the movie's one drawback. But the concert performances are excellent -- ABBA were quite good performers on stage in addition to writing effective pop songs -- and of course, the music is in some ways timeless. Yes, a lot of critics would argue that ABBA typify the 1970s, but then, critics have a tendency to pretention, preferring more obscure stuff that makes a statement over things that the great mass of people like. The mere fact that, 30 years on, ABBA's music is being re-used in a popular musical is evidence of how much the tunes fit in any era.

There's more to any concert movie than just the performances, though. In the case of ABBA: The Movie, the best part of the "extras" is probably the downtime footage of the group. Björn and Benny play Swedish folk music backstage on a concertina, and in their hotel suite, they discuss the press coverage, including one memorable scene of one of the women asking their producer what the word "kinky" means. There's also a barebones plot linking all the concert footage, in which a radio reporter has to get an interview with the group in order to save his job. His attempts constantly go wrong, although along the way he gets to interview a lot of "regular" people their opinions of ABBA, which makes for some of the more charming moments in the film. In one, two schoolgirls about six or seven years old are talking, and one of them says the group is "sexy", which sends the two of them into fits of giggling. There's also a taxi driver who frankly hates ABBA (this guy's rant is too good, however; I think this one is a professional actor. Finally, stay for the closing credits, in which the song Thank You For the Music is played over a background of the outer islands of the Stockholm archipelago. The wooded islets are just as beautiful as the music, and a fitting coda to the movie.

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