A-ha: The Movie Review

A-ha: The Movie
Loosely hung on a-ha’s recent gigs, an examination of the much-loved band from inception to today. Yet, despite their mid-’80s teenybopper reputation and impressive longevity, it seems dark, complex feelings course through the heart of this most misunderstood of ‘pop’ groups.

by Liz Beardsworth |
Published on
Release Date:

20 May 2022

Original Title:

A-ha: The Movie

A profile of Norwegian synth-pop band a-ha is perhaps not, on paper, the rock-doc everyone felt they were waiting for. Some will even greet the news of A-ha: The Movie with a mildly incredulous smirk. And indeed, it is a frustration with the refusal of the ‘serious’ music press to ever give them much credibility that runs through this restless, often uncomfortable film. Even if they did at the height of their fame — as singer (and “poser with attitude”) Morten Harket wryly admits — embrace the Smash Hits shoots, Saturday-morning-telly phone-ins and adolescent adoration.

A-ha: The Movie

Short-sighted critical dismissal is a fate suffered by a glut of legendary ’80s pop bands, especially those who were bedroom-poster-friendly and/or boasted a largely teenage-girl fanbase. Less predictable, perhaps, given that perky, heartthrob reputation, is the other main source of irritation for a-ha’s members: each other. It’s this tension — primarily between founding members Magne Furuholmen (keyboards), the strongest voice here, and the deceptively taciturn Pål Waaktaar (guitar) — that makes the documentary, tellingly “starring in alphabetical order”, a both edgy and engrossing watch. As a-ha aficionados will know, theirs is not a project based on friendship; more a sporadic tolerance and mutual, grudging respect. But the extent of this might come as a surprise, even as it lends the film darkly comic moments (“In the end, we just want to bash each other’s brains out,” Furuholmen observes early on. He might not be joking).

What comes through is the band’s talent, sincerity and pure musicality.

Directors Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm offer wistful context with early-years biography winningly animated in the style of the iconic ‘Take On Me’ vid, and there is absorbing stuff on the trio’s first days on the ’80s London pop and fashion scene (Human League, Soft Cell et al) — although a-ha sceptics may be surprised to find them listing Uriah Heep, Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix as key influences. But as the years pass, the mood, music and film darken, as old beefs come to the fore. It’s pretty startling to hear that Furuholmen, the creator of one of pop’s most iconic keyboard riffs (aged 14!), still longs for the guitar he feels he was pressured by Waaktaar into giving up when they were still kids at school; even more so that his pivotal contribution to ‘Take On Me’ was deemed relatively insignificant when it came to the writing credits.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. A segment on the evolution of said hit (originally called ‘The Juicy Fruit Song’ because it reminded them of a chewing-gum ad) is fun, as is a recap of their infamous run-in with John Barry when making Bond theme ‘The Living Daylights’ (Barry allegedly called them “Hitler Youth”). Props, too, for the “Make a-ha great again” baseball cap.

There are no fireworks in Robsahm and Holm’s approach — except in one tetchy rehearsal for the acoustic shows, which sees the generally reflective, Zen-like Harket momentarily lose his rag. But what comes through is the band’s talent, sincerity and pure musicality, due respect paid to the influence they’ve had on the likes of everyone from Coldplay to The Weeknd. And given the active involvement of all band members (plus their partners) — and the fact a-ha are very much still together, currently in the middle of another international tour — it’s an admirably candid piece. ‘Touchy’? All the better for it.

Far from a puff piece, a no-holds-barred, melancholy, often surprising examination of Norway’s most famous — and underrated — musical export. A must for fans — but prepare to brace.
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