45 years ago: ABBA transitions into filmmaking

There may not be a band in the history of pop music that has been so continually ridiculed for making such an impact as Sweden’s ABBA.

At the height of their fame, the critical establishment—particularly in the United States—hated the band, with critic Robert Christgau writing in 1979, “We’ve met the enemy, and they are.” That feeling now seems more than just a musical misstep. He also appears to be intentionally upset about the direction of the music itself. Perhaps it would be better to say, “We have met the future, which is ABBA.”

If you want great proof of this, look no further than the often overlooked but surprisingly entertaining band Oppa: The moviewhich premiered worldwide in December 1977.

The genesis of the film goes back to the band’s approach to releasing singles. From the very beginning, they made a music video (or “promo clip” as they were then called) to accompany nearly every song they released. As the band’s website acknowledges, “Major acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones really started making promo clips in the ’60s,” but ABBA pumped them out with unparalleled regularity in the ’70s, for a simple reason: They didn’t like touring. This was because, as singer Agnetha Faltskog explained in an interview during the film, they felt it sapped their creativity and took time in the studio.

Watch the trailer for “ABBA: The Movie”

In a 2021 interview with Watchmankeyboardist Benny Anderson estimated that during their 10-year career, ABBA played fewer than 100 shows.

But they were ambitious and needed a way to get their music out into the world, so they teamed up with a young Swedish film director named Lasse Hallstrom (who would eventually go on to direct films like What to eat gilbert grapes And the chocolate) to make promotional clips for their songs.

This proved successful enough that when the band reached international stardom with their 1976 album, Arrivaland somewhat reluctantly embarked on a month-long tour of Australia, bringing Hallstrom with them to make a film.

Watch ABBA perform ‘Dancing Queen’ from ‘ABBA: The Movie’

Oppa: The movie It’s part fantasy, part musical, and part music video collection. It centers around an Australian DJ named Ashley Wallace (played by Robert Hughes) who is assigned to interview ABBA, who are coming to the country on their tour.

However, due to a series of mishaps, Wallace kept missing his interview times and was forced to follow the band across the country from station to station. In the process, he also interviewed real fans about their love for the band. Interspersed all this with footage from the concert, as well as recordings by journalists with the four ABBA members – Faltskog, Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – footage of Beatlemania-like scenes inspired ABBA at the time all over Australia.

Eventually, after falling asleep and missing his last chance to interview the band, Wallace runs into an elevator with them. He quickly hooks up his microphone to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, begins the interview, and cuts to the extended video for the song “Eagle” from ABBA: the album, which was released in 1977 to coincide with the movie. The film ends with Wallace sitting in his studio at the station, listening to the interview, then cuts to another extended music video for “Thank You for the Music”, also from Oppa: The album.

Watch “Thank You for the Music” from ABBA: The Movie

The movie is fun, light, and expertly crafted, thanks to the band’s onstage presence and Hallström’s film chops. But what’s interesting about it now is how well it fits into the history of rock films and how it anticipates ABBA’s privileged place in the relationship between pop music, stage, and screen. In many ways, the film shares the tradition of rock and roll films that stretches back from Michael Wadley Woodstock (1970) through things like Martin Scorsese The last waltz (1978) and Penelope Spheeris The decline of Western civilization Parts 1 and II (1981 and 1988).

But while all of these films to greater or lesser parts include concert shots, attempts at cinematic realism and social commentary, Oppa: The movie takes a much lighter approach.

In some ways, the movie you’d expect the most is Rob Reiner’s 1984 satire This is Spinal Tap. Although the latter is a parody, both films deftly mix narration, interviews, and performance footage to tell a story. but most importantly, Oppa: The movie It also uses its semi-fictional format to serve as a promotional campaign for the band, which was completed with the simultaneous release of Oppa: The album.

It led the way not only for great feature-length music videos of the ’80s, such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (which was directed by another feature film vet, John Landis) but also for the wave of promotional musicals that began in the late ’90s. The band’s first foray into this arena was the 1994 Australian film Muriel’s wedding, which is about a woman obsessed with ABBA and features a number of their songs on the soundtrack. This was followed in 1999 by a stage play Mama Mia! The work, written by Katherine Johnson, tells the traditional musical story of romance lost and won, recorded exclusively with ABBA songs. It was also initially funded by one of the band’s members, Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Watch the trailer for “Mama Mia”

The play’s extraordinary success has inspired a legion of stage and film imitations, including performances on everyone from Fela Kuti to Alanis Morissette and seemingly everyone in between, not to mention a series of musically-oriented biographies and films that have flooded theatres.

All this he owes Mama Mia, which in turn owed to the band’s habit of combining their music and visuals at every opportunity. This is not to say that ABBA invented the idea of ​​combining music and video and weaving a story into it. Instead, they did exactly what they’ve done everywhere in their career: find shiny and shiny ways to get their material out there, with such skill that it has become an indelible and oft-copied element of our world.

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