Looking Back At ABBA: The Movie - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At ABBA: The Movie

Chris Morley knows the name of the game.

As the world recovers from the unexpected news that ABBA are releasing a new album, Voyage, after the new single, I Still Have Faith In You backed with Don't Shut Me Down, gave us a taster for their ABBAtars who will take up a London residency at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, what better time to look back at the near-seventies pop perfection? A- ha....

There's no Alan Partridge in sight, but 1977's ABBA: The Movie does have a different local DJ, one Ashley Wallace from Australia's Radio 2TW, as played by Robert Hughes, who with only a tape recorder in tow captures the thoughts of the Aussie public whilst trying to get an in-depth interview with the super trouper Swedes as they tour the land down under.

Directed by Lasse Hallström, who directed most of the group's videos and was on-hand to capture all eleven dates they played during their stay in Australia, ABBA: The Movie documents the band's visit to Oz, which followed their first major tour of Europe in January of '77. Hallström later indicated that the film's script and plot concept was "conceived on the plane on the way to Australia." It's not exactly Oscar worthy, but given that the documentary-drama was shot as the group were five albums into their career and at the height of their fame, fans of the band where hardly concerned about the plot. What they wanted was hits, hits, hits, and that's what they got across all 97 minutes; performances of everything from Waterloo to Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia to S.O.S. And with ABBA: The Album accompanying the film and spawning another two number ones, in the shape of Take A Chance On Me and The Name Of The Game, their already impressive roster of hits was seemingly bulging at the seems by the end of '77.

Being just about the biggest act in the world, it's only natural that any radio station would want an exclusive interview with the band, so ABBA: The Movie's plot is true to life in that regard. But why any radio station's boss (played here by Bruce Barry) would send someone like Ashley to get it is anyone's guess. He's never done an interview before, and doesn't make the task any easier for himself as he forgets to pack his press card, and can't get into any gigs as all the concert tickets are sold out, and ABBA's protective bodyguard (Tom Oliver) isn't letting anyone backstage.

In a moment of life imitating art, like Ashley, the Australian tour itself didn't get off to the best of starts for the seventies fab four. The first day in Sydney brought with it torrential rain and a bit of a slip-up from Anni-Frid in front of 20,000 people. A three-show stay in Melbourne followed and saw 14,500 treated to a glimpse of the workings of one of popular music's slickest machines, including the then Prime Minister of the country, Malcolm Fraser, and his family. But aside from Agnetha's skin-tight catsuit that got the country's press a bit hot under the collar, the actual concert wasn't impressing everyone. One headline played up to her blonde bombshell image, "Agnetha's bottom tops dull show". She would quickly grow tired of her status as something of a sex symbol, when asked about it retorted "Don't they have bottoms in Australia?"
But there's no such negativity in ABBA: The Movie, as the many members of the public Wallace interviews all seemingly love the band - aside from one man who is driven mad by his ABBA-obsessed twelve-year-old son, and another girl who thinks ABBA are over the top.

Over the top or not, the success of ABBA: The Movie helped them take the next step; the completion of their Polar Studios. Formed by Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and the band's manager Stig Anderson, who also appears in the film and is owner of Polar Music, the studio was used to record each of the last three ABBA albums. And it's Anderson who eventually saves poor hapless Ashley's skin after a lucky chance encounter between the pair in the foyer of ABBA's hotel. Anderson offers him that elusive interview and gives him tickets to that evening's concert. Wouldn't you know it, Ashley oversleeps and misses the interview. He's just about given up hope when he finds himself face-to-face with ABBA in an elevator. Voulez-Vous une interview? May or may not have been said, but it's a happy ending all round as ABBA fly off to record their next hit album whilst Ashley puts together the final edit of his brief encounter conversation in the back of a taxi from the airport, before arriving back at the radio station to listen as the interview is broadcast.

And now ABBA are back. And back in their prime. Their ABBAtars “performing” with a live band on stage, just like the actual group did in The Movie, but now appearing thanks to the handiwork of the team at Industrial Light & Magic crafting digital recreations of Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha & Anni-Frida in their heyday. It's unknown as yet as to whether their will be cut scenes with a hapless local DJ trying to interview the ABBAtars, but no doubt Steve Coogan's waiting for the call for the potential recast role.

It's hard for many fans to truly believe the reunion as even as recent as 2013 Agnetha was pouring cold water over any talk of it happening.
"I think we have to accept that it will not happen, because we are too old and each one of us has their own life. Too many years have gone by since we stopped, and there's really no meaning in putting us together again."
She did at least concede that the four had been on friendlier terms in the years since their four-way split over 30 years previous...
"It's always nice to see each other now and then and to talk a little and to be a little nostalgic."
Within three years of that were the first stirrings of the ABBAtars, COVID later given as the reason for the latest in a series of delays on the project before Bjorn confirmed new material was coming.
"There will be new music this year, that is definite, it's not a case anymore of it might happen, it will happen."
And now, in a nice case of thank you for the music, it's arrived. And without a song or dance, what are we, indeed?

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