Sunday, 4 April 2010

Veronica, December 1977: ABBA: “We are not actors”

Here’s a report from Dutch magazine Veronica about ABBA - The Movie, that was about to be released in Holland at that time.
This year, Christmas will be dominated by two major blockbusters. The cinema fans will undoubtedly get in line for ‘Star Wars’, but the music fanatics don’t want to miss an inch of celluloid of the movie ‘ABBA’. A highly anticipated product, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the music factory ABBA has sneaky plans with this, in advance already successful, movie.

Obviously, it’s manager, songwriter and (the pianist) Benny’s father, Stig Anderson who is willing to tell a little bit more about the meaning of this feature film. “This movie is a test for ABBA’s popularity,” he says. Stig is not a very friendly person, but when the subject is success or money, something seems to defrost. “And then I’m not talking about Europe, but America. I’ve been asked a hundred thousand times why ABBA hasn’t toured yet in America. They’ve had hits and gold records over there, so what could possibly stop us, you would think. I’ve kept ABBA out of the United States on purpose. They’ve been there a couple of times to do some promotion, but that’s all. Indeed, America should become the crowning achievement of ABBA’s success. They will only go on tour there if I’m one hundred percent convinced in advance that it will be an overwhelming success. The ABBA movie is able to provide all the necessary clues.”
Insiders in the music industry all agree that, if ABBA makes it big in the States, this quartet will become the most important export article after Volvo. ABBA is able to strike an inexhaustible goldmine over there.

“We want an ABBA invasion. Not an uphill struggle. I won’t let them loose on the American market before success is guaranteed.” Stig’s words are resolved and self-confident. As a true commanding officer, he leads his group. A musical strategist of the Napoleon calibre. With the difference that Napoleon lost his battle at Waterloo and ABBA started their string of victories at the same place. The ABBA movie has had its premiere in Australia recently. There was a special reason for that. The Swedish group has toured extensively in that country. Director Lasse Hallström has shot no less than fifty hours of film over there. All action shots originate from that. The major part of this movie will consist of the most exciting moments of this tour. Still, Hallström has managed to incorporate some kind of storyline in the movie, in collaboration with the Australian scriptwriter Bob Caswell. The focus is on a DJ who is going through this movie adventure together with ABBA. In the end, it all comes down to music, because the DJ is honoured by ABBA with four new songs, that have been composed by Benny and Björn. The titles are ‘Thank You For The Music’, ‘Eagle’, ‘I’m A Marionette’ and ‘I Wonder’. The fifth new song is already familiar. That’s ‘Name Of The Game’, already a hit in The Netherlands. In the movie, this song is presented in a surrealistic scene, wherein ABBA goes up and down in an open elevator. Bizarre, but effective. That’s also the aim that’s strived for. Now back to commanding officer Anderson.

“It’s not a movie wherein high profile acting achievements should be expected. ABBA is music. I assume that people will come and see the movie for that.” Director Hallström can be more specific. “I did my best to avoid a copy of the Beatles’ ‘Help’. In that movie, the four boys were suddenly introduced as actors, who also sang a song every now and then. In this movie, it’s all about the songs. I can hear you think that this is one big promotional film for the new and fifth album, but that’s a mistake. I have a reasonable reputation as a director and I want to keep it at that level, especially now that it concerns an international blockbuster.”
Anyone who want to see ‘ABBA’ can expect an impression of the Swedish quartet that’s far from complete, but nevertheless a lively (albeit glamorous) image of their current lifestyle. Hallström: “I’m not dealing with four fresh actors, who want to make it big as actors and actresses. They are only playing themselves. When they are acting, they do it on stage during their performance. For the rest, I only followed them with my camera to portray them on the big screen as natural as possible. We decided to incorporate a little storyline to make some kind of concession to the art of film. ABBA rightfully says: ‘we are not actors’. And that’s true...”
Manager Anderson avoids every bet about the success of the movie. Anderson doesn’t speculate. With patience and craftsmanship, he wins over the entire international market. No less than 544 cover versions have been made of ABBA’s songs in no less than 24 countries.

Still, the movie has cost a lot of money. Polar Film & Music Productions and AB Svensk Film (SF) have spent more than two and a half million Dutch guilders on this product. It might have been worse, because numerous countries are interested already. In Holland, the movie will be released around Christmas with twelve copies. No one needs to be anxious about the success in our country. The biggest blow should take place in America.
“We’ve seen to it that not too much Swedish is spoken in the movie,” Hallström says. “This should be easy to swallow for everyone. And mark my words: it will be. Anderson would never have allowed us to make this movie if he wouldn’t have been able to predict the box office results in advance.” With this easy-titled movie, ABBA is on its way to equal or even beat the records set by the Beatles.
The director has the last word: “I didn’t lose a night’s sleep over this. I have only dreamed about long lines of mothers and children, teenagers and elderly people, who are all waiting in line in front of hundreds of cinemas. A wonderful dream. I hope to live it in reality in the near future.”


George said...

Stig Anderson was oh so wrong about his Abba US strategy and the movie, in particular.
The movie never even went into general theatrical release in the US, except limited screenings during group's North Anerican tour in the fall of 1979.

Michel said...

Yes, some weird decisions were made concerning ABBA's US career.
The US was ready to be conquered after ABBA's promotional visit and the highly succesful 'Take A Chance On Me' single in 1978. After this success, ABBA's record company bizarrely chose not to release any new ABBA record for over a year.