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ABBA: The Movie(1977)
In his film debut, director Lasse Hallström captures the offstage life and live-concert excitement of Swedish pop superstars ABBA (Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, playing themselves) during the group's 1977 Australian tour. Serving as the movie's framing device is a subplot about the attempts of an industrious disc jockey (Robert Hughes) seeking an exclusive interview with ABBA -- by any means necessary.
For more about ABBA: The Movie and the ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray release, see ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on November 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Robert Hughes, Stig Anderson
Director: Lasse Hallström
» See full cast & crew
ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray Review
Swedish gold heads Down Under.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, November 12, 2012
I'm not exactly sure what "ABBA: The Movie" was originally intended to be when director Lasse Hallstrom first climbed aboard the production, but what he ultimately constructed out of a 10-city Australian tour in 1977 is something that not only captures the band at the peak of their popularity and musical creativity, but isolates the swirl of hysteria that greeted the group inside the one area of the world that treated their presence like a coronation. The feature is a strange hybrid of performance sequences, documentary footage, and staged shenanigans, yet it braids together wonderfully, creating a time capsule experience that's precious to any fan of ABBA, seizing a moment in time where a clean-cut foursome wearing tight outfits, big boots, and huge smiles could rock a continent so thoroughly, bringing their exquisite harmonies and sumptuously layered pop to a corner of the globe that was craving their attention. Perhaps newcomers to the world of ABBA won't embrace the film in full, yet Hallstrom creates such a giddy environment of interviews and stage domination, it easy to get sucked into the touring whirlwind and appreciate this special moment in the history of a legendary group.
In an attempt to create a plot that could glue musical performances and publicity stops together, "ABBA: The Movie" concerns country D.J. Ashley Wallace (Robert Hughes), who's been tasked by his boss to travel around Australia and interview ABBA during their massively popular tour of the continent, collecting aural atmosphere for a blockbuster radio special. Reluctantly accepting the challenge, Ashley hits the road, confident he'll be able to knock out a chat right away. However, the extraordinary frenzy enveloping the band everywhere they go overwhelms his simple plan and, without his press pass, access to members Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad isn't going to happen easily. Racing through Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne, Ashley maniacally follows the band wherever it goes, hoping to avoid the attention of security to catch just a few moments of valuable interview time. Along the way, the radio man meets with ABBA fans young and old, also encountering a few who show open disdain for the music, adding to Ashley's collection of recorded personalities that's in desperate need of the supergroup's critical participation.
While always a controversial group to bring up in mixed company, it's hard to deny the power of ABBA throughout this "rockumentary." The band, captured in the midst of their fame, is alert and ready to entertain the masses, showcased in numerous concert performances of such hits as "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," and a spirited audience sing-along version of "Fernando." Hallstrom doesn't submit the most extravagant cinematographic effort to spotlight the band in motion, but performance roles are defined from the get-go, with Benny and Bjorn sustaining buoyant instrumental interests on the sides of the stage, while Frida and Agnetha dominate the center with their cannon-like voices, heavenly harmonies, and pronounced, tightly-costumed bottoms (hilariously, Frida is caught visibly irritated with all the attention placed on her bandmate's rear). All Hallstrom can do is point a camera and pray, leaving the bulk of the energy up to ABBA, who deliver vigorous work to bewitch the screaming crowds, while indulging themselves with lesser known cuts like "He Is Your Brother" and "Tiger." There's also a fantasy element in play, creating opportunities for music video interludes where Ashley fantasizes about his time palling around with the band as they belt out "The Name of the Game" and the strange but soaring "Eagle." The stiff, Hallstromesque dreamscape interactions are played for laughs (I love how Ashley imagines ABBA watching him tee off at a golf course), but also carry an unexpected sexual snap. However, one shouldn't read too much into it. Sometimes a bulging microphone placed near the wet mouths of two lead singers positioned on all fours is just a microphone.
Perhaps most interesting about "ABBA: The Movie" is its commentary on the grinding nature of touring. During press conference footage, the band openly discusses the difficulties of a city-to-city lifestyle, confessing a dazed state of mind when it comes to the routine of eating, sleeping, and performing. The topic emerges again during a presentation of "I'm a Marionette," a decidedly theatrical excursion (part of "The Girl with Golden Hair" mini-musical) during the show that emphasizes the manipulation of touring and its coldly mechanical demands. It's pretty potent stuff for a feature that's supposed to be celebrating a rare ABBA outing, exposing fatigue and concern that would come to end the band's interest in travel altogether, making the picture all the more special for fans.
Equally intriguing is Hallstrom's concentration on omnipresent merchandising efforts that saturate Australian shops, intending to cover locals head to toe in ABBA gear. Socks, pillows, buttons, shirts, and countless other swag are displayed, with one montage of merch weaved into a performance of "Money, Money, Money," generating a playful poke at the business of being ABBA.
Beyond glimpses of the band at work being famous, "ABBA: The Movie" sets aside a few moments for man-on-the-street interviews , following Ashley as he grills locals for their feelings on the visiting celebrities. Obviously, there's excitement to study, with young girls particularly opinionated on the topic. Amusingly, it's the older folks who provide the most colorful answers, sharing their approval of the band's good taste and positive influence while the rest of the globe crumbles under the weight of depraved arena rock. Hallstrom employs the interviews as breathers between the songs, furthering Ashley's panic as he gathers what little he can to stitch together a string of sound bites that might pass for an ABBA special without the all-important ABBA contribution.
ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray, Video Quality
The AVC encoded image (2.33:1 aspect ratio, with a windowboxed opening) presentation is hampered by limited concert coverage and cruddy stage lighting, yet the basic cinematic experience is preserved with the presence of mild grain and a crisp read of Panavision boundaries. While some flicker and banding are detected, along with some print debris, the viewing experience is satisfactory without ever being truly remarkable, with issues of crush robbing difficult stage shots of depth, watching backgrounds and dark textures thicken. Fine detail is adequate for a softly shot feature that employs numerous filters to acquire a dreamy appearance, with bright exteriors bringing out the feel of clothing, the rush of sweaty anxiety, and the throngs of undulating fans gathered outside hotels and airports. Amusing particulars are found during street scenes as well, providing a crisp look at merchandise and the quirks of interviewees. Colors are a little on the faded side, but hold up fine, delivering costuming opulence as intended.
ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 PCM sound mix is a volatile blend of interviews and comedy, while concert sequences create immediate immersion into the music. Highs are a touch on the shrill side, falling in line with recording equipment of the era, while a healthy low-end lays a convincing foundation of bass and percussion, helping to even out the tunes. Surrounds are inviting for group gatherings and concert mania, while the soundtrack retains crisp musicianship and personality, with comfortable separation and placement without any real sweeping directional movement. Human moments return to a frontal position, navigating accents and exasperation easily. With a movie like this, bigness counts for something, and the BD delivers on that evocative challenge, bringing concert sensations to life. A more refined balance between the highs and the lows is missing, but rarely mourned.
ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Frustratingly, the supplements on "ABBA: The Movie" are presented in a picture-in-picture style for reasons unknown. I have no idea who thought this would be a good idea, needlessly complicating the viewing of vital interview and marketing efforts.
ABBA: The Movie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The true joy of "ABBA: The Movie" is the feel of the excited audiences and the enormity of the touring event. It's a you-are-there picture with decent laughs, cinematic texture, and incredible atmosphere, giving fans exactly what they want from an ABBA feature, only lacking true access to the personal lives of the stars. What Hallstrom lacks in intimacy he makes up for in musical firepower, making a definitive document of the band's unbelievable influence, stamping that hysteria onto celluloid to share with a world ABBA eventually decided to stop visiting in person.
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