Yikes! I try not to read anyone else’s review before I write my own, but I couldn’t help stopping in my tracks when I saw one critic’s opening salvo on a-ha: The Movie ‘The Norwegian synth-pop trio has one great song and a 35-year career to back it up.’ What’s surprising about this opening is that it was written after seeing Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s documentary, which carefully documents the careers of the Norwegian band who lasted far longer than most. That staying power was hard-won, and this film documents how internal, creative tensions made for tricky creative roads for a-ha to stay on.
The band’s photographer has a story of his own; it’s hard to photograph people who don’t want to be photographed together is his takeaway. Morten, Pal and Magne met as teenagers in Oslo Norway, and struck out for the bright lights of London, where they were swiftly re-packaged and their local hit Take On Me was re-recorded with a game-changing pop video by Steve Barron. Fame was instant, and there was a rush to follow up debut album Hunting High and Low. Scoundrel Days demonstrated a band that were intent on forging their own path; even as the band’s image started to become compromised, it was clear that in terms of original song-writing and soaring, melodic vocals, a-ha were here to stay. Later successes like 2005’s Analogue or Foot of the Mountain are just as good as their early work; while disagreements seem to have been regular, the results still wowed huge audiences worldwide.
But don’t let the fact that Coldplay cite a-ha as a major influence put you off…a-ha have stayed the course, and this doc, while short of analysis of the creative decisions made, at least allows the band to tell their own story in their own words, even if getting them into the same frame seems like a challenge. It’s interesting to hear what the band’s diverse influences are (Soft Cell, Uriah Heep, The Doors) because there’s definite traces of those bands in their music, but transformed into something that’s rather unique. The use of hand-drawn animation, rotoscoped over real images, recalls the band’s iconic Take On Me video, and ties the whole package together nicely.
I went to see a-ha play live a few years ago, and would accept that I’m a fan; they’ve written dozens of haunting, evocative songs, and their live shows absolutely rock. a-ha seem to be doing pretty well these days, and this documentary from Modern Films in the UK ably captures the hard-work behind the band’s distinctive sound. Living their own adventure tale, a-ha are many things, but they’re certainly not one-hit wonders, and this film shows exactly how they rock (and roll).
Thanks to Modern Films for access. Showing Nationwide in UK Cinemas from 20 May 2022.