It’s interesting for a European to encounter some of the American-based reviews of this engaging film from co-directors Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm, only to “learn” that A-ha are “a one-hit-wonder band”.
It’s true that the extraordinary run of top 10 hits they enjoyed in Ireland and across Europe during the late 1980s – including Hunting High and Low, The Sun Always Shines on TV, James Bond theme The Living Daylights and Cry Wolf – didn’t match the seven-million-plus sales of Take on Me or the cultural impact of Steve Barron’s animated video for the song.
Few records in history, however, can compete with that song. And the band’s first three platinum albums have been followed by international hit singles (2006’s Analogue was a top 10 success in the UK), immensely successful solo projects and later albums, and a Guinness World Record for the biggest paying rock concert audience: 198,000 at the Rock in Rio festival in 1991.
If only the three chaps liked each other a little more.
Early on in this documentary portrait of Norway’s best-known musical trio, they are asked about that most dreaded phrase: new material. “I’ve already made a new a-ha record,” says Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, the guitarist and most musically ambitious member of the band. Ageless lead singer Morten Harket obfuscates slightly: “If we’d gone somewhere for three months to make a record then I might have been a believer.”
“No,” comes the rather more straightforward answer from keyboardist Magne Furuholmen.
“The Movie” takes rather too long to get to the heart of the matter. There are issues with writing credits and, presumably, money.
As their biographer notes, if they had emulated U2 in having shared publishing rights, they might have been happier in the studio.
As things stand, even the band’s official photographer of four decades bemoans the fact that they simply don’t want to be together. Or at least Harket and Furuholmen don’t like being around Waaktaar-Savoy: Furuholmen even opted for 18 months of national service to escape the band in 1994; Harket followed his compatriot home to Norway.
Sadly, the film falls short of being A-ha’s Some Kind of Monster (Metallica’s cringy group therapy epic). Despite occasional salty remarks and one uncomfortable scene when Furuholmen and Waaktaar-Savoy pointedly stand in the opposite corners of a shared lift, the band – who travel separately toward dressing rooms – stay too far away from one another to allow for a cathartic moment.
Add to that certain individual tendencies – notably Harket’s devastating self-criticism – and we have lots of intrigue but no showdown. An entertaining chronicle of “musical differences”, enlivened nonetheless by Take On Me-inspired rotoscoped inserts.