Film – a-ha: The Movie

Steve Taylor-Bryant didn't need to cry wolf to take on a-ha: The Movie which got its UK Premiere at Glasgow Film Festival last night [and ,no, the sun didn't shine on his TV either - Ed]...

“Was that somebody screaming...
It wasn't me for sure
I lift my head up from uneasy pillows
Put my feet on the floor
Cut my wrist on a bad thought
And head for the door” – Scoundrel Days

If there is one thing I love, it is documentaries about bands and musicians I grew up with. Shades of Grey, the film showing the making of Billy Joel’s River of Dreams album is fascinating, and just the other year [it was 2018 - Ed] I got to see the Bros film which was stunning and brought me personally the most interaction with our readers I had ever had. So when the opportunity for a film about a band I have for loved for nearly four decades came along I just had to take a look. As you will learn during a-ha: The Movie, I am not their only fan. Kanye West, U2, Oasis are all fans and the guys from Coldplay are huge nuts for the Norwegian trio but, as with all music documentaries, I want more than just a celebrity endorsement and a roundup of hit song videos. However, the videos do play an important part in a-ha’s history and do get a fair segment of the film along with dramatizations of events or past histories being played out in animation in the style of Take On Me which was fun and not as distracting as it could have been.

The film isn’t necessarily in chronological order, though the important points in the band's timeline all get touched upon, and often during the interviews with Morten, Magne, and Pål something may get discussed which makes the story jump back and forth a bit. But this is unimportant in the grand scheme of things and to hear the interviews was the main thing, especially considering how tense and fractured the relationships seem to be. This was my biggest take from the film, and the most surprising. To see three guys who have been in the same band since the early 1980’s, two of whom have been friends since they were 13 years old, who come across in the media as a strong friendship group, and how almost fed up with each other they are, how fraught the relationships seem to be was actually quite shocking. Having been in bands, I get that sometimes there will be disagreements, maybe a little tension over musical direction or something, but to see such turmoil and conflicting opinions amongst the three was a huge surprise. Towards the end of the film the question arises, not for the first time, about whether they will record another album since they haven’t released anything since Cast in Steel in 2015. Magne says he is writing but for himself, he has a song that he thinks could be a huge hit for the band but that he has such a torrid and emotional time being in the studio with the other two he doubts he will put it forward. Pål is constantly writing and thinks he has a whole albums worth of material if the guys want to come and record it, although it seems like it would have to be his way, and Morten says he doesn’t think they will ever record an album again. 

This saddens me as a fan, I have liked most of every album since the very first one (East of the Sun, West of the Moon is very underrated) but it gives an interesting look at the creative process and the politics within a band. The dispute between Magne and Pål over what constitutes song writing and the ongoing battle over earlier credits, Magne’s heart condition, with home footage of him being shocked with a defibrillator being a real eye opener, meaning he really doesn’t want to stress himself out too much, and Morten after years of being the media focal point just wanting a privacy bubble probably means we won’t get a record and yet here are the band still touring, here are the band still selling out arenas and travelling the world. a-ha seem to be a band of contradictions who don’t know what they want from one day to the next and that adds a real intrigue to the film.

Underneath all the conflict and infighting there are obviously three musicians who have nothing but respect for each other, even if it’s not a brotherhood anymore, and to see all the live stuff over the years is worth viewing the film for on its own. Add in the poverty days of the early 1980’s and the original version of Take On Me before the remixed re-release, the falling out with John Barry about the recording of The Living Daylights, and the snippets of recording sessions from past albums and you have a fascinating watch, a film full of musical history and character that is as informative as it is entertaining. The rehearsal footage for the Unplugged sessions is phenomenal and show just how talented Magne and Pål are and just what a stunning vocalist with a massive range Morten still is.

A must watch for fans, an interesting perspective on band longevity, and a great trip through a superlative back catalogue of beautiful songs.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Images - Glasgow Film Festival

Glasgow Film Festival runs until 13th of March. See what's on when and book tickets at the GFF22 website.
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