much more than a single song

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Magne Fuhruholmen and Morten Harket

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Magne Fuhruholmen and Morten Harket
photo: Lightyear Entertainment

Being a fan of a-ha in the United States in the late ’80s and early ’90s meant cracking the same joke over and over again, “Oh, is your greatest hits album an EP?” Not that a-ha ever stopped would have to take up or be successful in most parts of the world. But here, with the one song — you know the one — used by so many movies and TV shows as shorthand for ’80s cheese, they’re best known as the band that will test your falsetto at karaoke. The same band that is often wrongly called a one-hit wonder quiet holds a Guinness World Record for most concert-goers after a show in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, and also made the second-best James Bond theme song, The Living Daylights, according to this critic. (Best of course is Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill.”)

In order to a-ha: The movie is not a documentary version of That what you do, but it acknowledges much of the band’s global perception even as it dutifully repairs their legacy. In the first half, we will be presented with numerous versions of “Take On Me” from the original riff on a very different song to numerous (rightly) rejected incarnations, including the first single version that flopped. At least domestically, that’s what most ticket buyers will (perhaps rightly) expect. But what follows, and surrounds this chart-topper’s irresistible hook, is the story of a band who, in their own words, don’t go through rises and falls behind the music script or just kick back in nostalgia. It’s a compelling tale of three perfectionists who consider music their bond but don’t work very well together when they don’t have to.

In the ’80s, singer Morten Harket was probably on almost as many European teenage girl walls as Tom Cruise and George Michael. It was never a role he sought, except to the extent that it caught the attention of record labels early in the band’s career. When a-ha play live it is actually keyboardist Magne Furuholmen who fronts, jokes with the crowd and runs the show. Meanwhile, guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy is arguably the boss behind the scenes, though he hates the limelight. rake‘s whistles span a great vocal range, which is one of the reasons the chorus of “Take On Me” not only stands out, but lasts so long: IIt starts low and ends super high, spanning octaves most other rock stars can’t.

The film doesn’t attempt to make a case for the size of the band, largely because it doesn’t need to; As already mentioned, their achievements set standards worldwide. But it does offer some theories as to why their music has stalled in the US and why Bono’s (possibly unintentional) crib from “The Sun Always Shines on TV” in U2‘s Beautiful Day is exponentially better known here than the original. According to a-ha, their US marketing blunder was to introduce “Manhattan Skyline” as a single, with tempo changes and vocal shifts that they hoped would give the trio their own “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The film shows how, in these circumstances and a few others, they fought too hard with their label (who argues with John Barry over their credit for a Bond theme?) and capitulated too easily elsewhere (there’s a reason why You only remember the videos that used rotoscoped animation, and that’s not because of that there were no others).

At one point, the film jumps to the present to show the band’s perfectionist nature in real time as they prepare for it MTV unplugged. It’s a rare occurrence for Harket to perform the difficult role in front of the camera after years of playing effortlessly cool for magazine covers. Waaktaar-Savoy may be the control freak, and Furuholmen the unforgiving “little brother”, but that’s what we learn here rake can get tired of his own voice and hates having to bang those high notes for too long.

Director Thomas Robsahm, who directed the Norwegian documentary series Punx and produced the 2022 Oscar nominee The worst person in the world, followed a-ha for four years, lured by the prospect of documenting the recording of their next album. That part never happened. The band broke up and got back together during that time and still can’t agree on recording anything new. Furuholmen seems to be the main obstacle thanks to a very personal reason he reveals the end of the movie this goes far deeper than erratic personalities or arguments over songwriting credit.

Robsahm deftly uses a style of rotoscoping similar to the band’s early videos, creating flashbacks in real settings with characters drawn in, and the occasional interlude shots that he clearly desires for live-action. However, a staggering amount of media has survived from the band’s early analogue days, but after scoring their biggest hit with their first-ever single, this film more than satisfactorily fills in the gaps for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Are there any omissions? For sure. The film does not reveal the story of how the band got their name (Wikipedia is your friend here) or why they record exclusively in English, although one can assume that the latter was originally a deliberate marketing decision. Waaktaar-Savoiewho married an American only speaks English into the camera (he now also spells his first names “Paul”), while Harket and Furuholmen Stick to Norwegian even though they both speak Languages.

Nonetheless, it heralds another wave of documentaries (including Edgar Wright’s The Sparks brothers) that capture musical luminaries who were the first to wow Gen-Xers. It’s great that the baby boomers can be seen in so many films about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and many more, but for 1980s kids, even an a-ha movie in the last four decades feels like a real treat. Especially since their greatest accomplishment is celebrating their longevity to fans and shattering the notion of the group as a nostalgic act (even if they refuse to record new albums). After all, they’re still touring at the moment, with a date at the Hollywood Bowl in July. can we get Deletion: The Movie next? Ask for a friend.

https://www.avclub.com/a-ha-the-movie-review-take-on-me-1848665195 much more than a single song

Andrew Schnitker

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