ABBA captures the silver screen: Packed theatres greet Swedish popsters’ movie

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly 10 April 1978

Their singles have topped the charts; their albums have set sales records; their concerts have been sellouts; and their TV specials have been family favourites.

Now members of the Swedish pop group ABBA are all set to score in a brand new field – as film stars!

ABBA–The Movie which received its world premiere in Australia at Christmas and is currently playing to packed houses in Britain, is on its way to New Zealand!

It will open at several provincial centres on April 21st, 1978, and in the main centres for the May, 1978 school holidays.

Basically, of course, the film is a feast of ABBA on stage – much of this filmed during the group’s Australian tour last Summer – but there is a storyline about a disk jokey from a Sydney radio station assigned by his boss to get an exclusive in-depth interview with the world’s most famous foursome.

The deejay, Ashley (played by Robert Hughes) has never done anything like this before and gets into a real panic in his attempts to make contact with the elusive ABBA.

 

It seems that he has no press-card, and without that important piece of paper there’s no getting near Anna, Frida, Benny and Bjorn!

How Ashley copes – well fans will be able to find out when they see the film….

London beginnings

Apparently the idea of making a movie began when the group was in London.

Shooting began, but by the time ABBA had reached Australia it was decided to produce it in Panavision, which meant scrapping the British footage.

Trying to film the famous four during the hurly-burly of the Australian tour turned into a film-maker’s nightmare.

Director Lasse Hallstrom explains: “Panavision was a new technique for me. We had two film crews plus two extra photographers, and an unbelievable stack of equipment had to be packed, moved, unpacked and re-packed at every concert location.

“There were around 100 of us involved, and in all the inevitable confusion there were times when ABBA’s own personal guards – we filmers call them ‘gorillas’ – lost track of who was who.

Forcibly restrained

“I found myself forcibly restrained from getting close on several occasions – and I got just a little tired of having to explain that I was there at ABBA’s own request!”

One of the key objectives of the production team was to make the film as “natural” as possible.

So, while the members of ABBA were told about the storyline, they weren’t told the identity of the actor playing the deejay.

Lasse let ABBA believe that he (Robert Hughes who played Ashley) was, in fact, just what he was supposed to be – an Aussie on the trail of an interview.

Says Frida: “We cottoned on in the end, but for a while we kept wondering who this pushy, determined guy was. To tell the truth, we got kind of fed up with him. It makes us all laugh, now, to think how we treated poor old Robert Hughes.”

Robert, in his role as Ashley, was another one to run foul of the ABBA “gorillas.” “There was one occasion,” he grins, “when I had to make a rush for ABBA as they came out of their tour caravan. And – would you believe – nobody had told the bodyguards!

“I got clobbered right away, and a glorious fight started. We Aussies may be handy enough in a punch-up, but I was glad when someone eventually convinced those guys I was the actor!

Bob Hughes, ex-journalist, ex-musician, has been acting for around five years. Having had to travel across the world to make the completion of the film in Sweden, he describes the whole thing as “one of the most fantastic and unforgettable experiences of my life. 

How did ABBA members themselves take to the movie-making?

Well, Benny was hard to win over initially because of a previous film catastrophe back in his days with The Hep Stars pop/rock group.

But Anna liked the idea right from the beginning.

“I’d acted before in the Swedish version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar,” she says, “And I loved it. I suppose I must be a genuine extrovert.”

She and Frida appear together at the end of the film in a self-contained “musical” called The Girl With The Golden Hair.

ABBA wanted a longer sequence than just single songs to wind up with, so the mini-musical was devised.

In it, both girls wear long golden wigs, and it’s quite a challenge to tell them apart.

Bjorn and Benny, who don’t actually appear in the musical, wrote four new songs especially for it – Thank You For The Music, I Wonder (Departure), I’m A Marionette and Get On The Carousel.”

They enjoyed doing this so much they are now considering writing a full-length one for the group!

Recently Stig Anderson, the “fifth ABBA,” went looking for suitable material.

“Alice” theme

He kicked around the possibility of adapting Alice In Wonderland…until he found to his extreme annoyance that someone else had already done it.

“But that,” he says, “is show business.”

Show business, of course, is the name of ABBA’s game. All the way down the line from the musical ideas sparked by Bjorn and Benny in their secret island home to the lavish productions on stage, the smash-hit records – and now, the film.

They - and director Hallstrom as well – says knowingly that, since there’s much, much more footage in the can than was actually used on the final movie, there could just be room for a follow-up. But that’s way, way in the future….

© 1978 New Zealand Women's Weekly. Thanks to Samuel Inglles