a-ha The Movie – Review

Documentaries like this one are always of interest. Even if you are not a fan of the band in question there is a certain amount of pleasure to be taken from a biography that covers more than just the stuff that the publicity engine wants you to see. Though not full warts and all version of their career, it still covers most of their highs and lows.

Told in a mostly linear fashion, the film starts before the band came together and provides a background to their lives in Norway. It highlights the fact that all three members of the band were ambitious right from the start. They wanted to be listened to outside of their native country and that it would involve strength and sacrifice on their part to get it. Most of this period is covered by augmented photographs that cover the story and give something more visually interesting than straight-up photos.

With the band forming in the eighties there is a wealth of archive footage to call on. There is a mix of promo videos, TV appearances and home footage that gets across just what a phenomenon the band became. A good portion of the early period covers the big hit single Take on Me. This was the calling card for a-ha and it is interesting to see the development of the song from its guitar-based origins, through the initially released version which flopped to the polished version that is arguably one of the best-known songs of the eighties. It’s nice to see that the credit for this is spread around. The producer is acknowledged to have played a large part in its success and a special mention is made of the iconic promo video and the people involved in creating that.

The film uses interviews with the band as the basis for moving the story on. For the most part, it is only them that are interviewed on camera. Everyone else is audio-only with stills on screen when they are making their contribution. It keeps things clear in terms of narrative. The focus is on the band which is the best way to present their history.

That isn’t to say that this is some form of hagiography. They are all quite frank about issues and problems that have dogged the creative process over the years. it is obvious early on in the film that we will not see them interviewed together at any point. This gives the impression that they do not get along which is partly true. Tellingly, Morten states that the band was never based on friendship but on music which comes across in the sometimes strained relationship they have had over the years.

This project has given the band a chance to look back at some of the things they did in support of their albums. No matter how daft it seemed to them, they would do all sorts of photoshoots and publicity that was asked of them. What this did was cement an image that they found hard to shake off as they matured in terms of their music. That along with issues around songwriting credits meant that there was always a bit of tension.

The film is a well-constructed documentary. It captures the members of the band at, what seems like, their most honest. It is a good mix of interviews and footage with the latter blended very neatly with the sentiment being expressed on screen. As they have been around for thirty-five years there is a lot of ground to cover. This results in some of their career getting less of a mention than others. A couple of albums are glossed over with barely a mention but I suppose cuts had to be n=made somewhere.

One thing that still obviously bothers them is the Bond theme for The Living Daylights. None of them seems to want to talk about it and given that it was a big story at the time, it is only mentioned for a few moments. The outcome appears to be that they were stubborn and John Barry was stubborn resulting in them not getting along at all.

If you are a fan of a-ha you will love this documentary. If not, there is more than enough here to keep you interested for the two hour run time.

John McArthur
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