Review: A-HA - The Movie
- Thomas Robsahm's documentary is a delight for the band's fans, and a pleasant surprise for lovers of 80s music
The 1985 hit Take on Me and its iconic refrain have been sung countless times, even in the most depressing karaoke bars on the planet. Many are familiar with A-HA, but few might know of their turbulent vicissitudes as a band and group of three friends from Oslo who dreamt big and wanted to achieve their big break in the 1980s music industry, despite the fierce competition posed by British and American artists.
In his new feature entitled A-HA - The Movie [+see also:
interview: Thomas Robsahm
film profile], now screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Thomas Robsahm (Modern Slavery, The Greatest Thing) decides to tell the full story behind the popular trio, formed by guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, keyboardist Magne Furuholmen and lead vocalist Morten Harket. The narration is conventional but flows quite smoothly; in the beginning, we follow the band from their first rehearsals during their teenage years in the cold, boring Oslo of the 1970s, the attempts they made to be noticed by London's music labels and producers, their initial failures and their life-changing encounters with managers Terry Slater and John Ratcliff.
The story moves on, featuring a combination of brand-new interviews, behind-the-scenes excerpts, archive footage and several animated sequences showing how the band achieved worldwide success with their most famous single – and yes, its catchy refrain will worm its way into your head even more! Interestingly, the documentary uses their rise to fame to clarify the dynamics between the trio and how they each reacted differently to their overwhelming, global success. Pål and Magne, for example, admitted that the media's major focus on their frontman Morten allowed them to remain slightly more in the background, perhaps in a safer, more comfortable position. In fact, it’s Pål who emerges as the real leader of the band, even though his authority has also caused much discontent.
Their golden age in the 1980s by way of songs like Cry Wolf and The Sun Always Shines on TV, their decline in the early 1990s which culminated in the release of the 1993 album Memorial Beach, a work exploring unusual, uncomfortable artistic territories, their first hiatus, their comeback in 1998, their second farewell in 2010 and their second reunion in 2015 are all covered in this documentary, to some extent.
Undoubtedly, the movie will prove a joyful experience for the band's fans, and a pleasant surprise for all lovers of 1980s new wave, alt rock and synth pop genres, especially for those not boasting in-depth knowledge of A-HA's discography and who might want to “shazam” some hidden gems throughout the film. The theme of fame and how it can impact and overwhelm people’s lives is touched upon, but a deeper exploration of the band's struggles and critical moments might have widely improved the overall quality of the film.
This isn’t to deny Robsahm's good work on this feature, which remains an entertaining, captivating piece. However, the film fails to stand out from the crowd, remaining a rather traditional music documentary. Nevertheless, it does open up another question: why is this band almost exclusively known for Take on Me and considered by many to be a “one-hit-wonder” phenomenon, whilst the quality of their other songs is equal – if not superior – to that of their greatest success?
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