The documentary “a-ha: The Movie” is best experienced along with some supplemental YouTube videos to give you a complete picture of how this Norwegian group rose to fame in the mid-1980s. Their “Take On Me” earned them a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.
Director Thomas Robsahm, the son of Norwegian model Margarete Robsahm and Italian actor/director Ugo Tognazzi, was born in Arendal, Norway and is uniquely positioned to tell the story. Born in 1964, Robsahm was 21 when “Take On Me” took on the world. He was of the same generation as the a-ha trio (Magne Furuholmen was born in 1962; Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, in 1961 and Morten Harket, in 1959) Robsahm provides new interviews with the band as well as previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage.
For visual artists, particularly animators, their video is a landmark. “Take On Me” won Best New Artist, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction, Best Special Effects and Viewers’ Choice awards at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1986. The same year, their “The Sun Always Shines on TV” won Best Editing and Best Cinematography.
The Norwegian synth-pop band consisted of Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards and guitars) and Morten Harket (vocals). With their musicianship and Harket’s stunning voice and movie star good looks, you’d think they’d be primed for success. But success didn’t come easy and Harket pushed the band with his mercurial looks and experimental fashions. Still, the first time out, their song “Take On Me” didn’t hit the charts. The original version was produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff. It was a good song with an unexceptional video, but it took the version produced by Alan Tarney and the music video directed by Steve Barron (and drawn by Candace Reckinger and Mike Patterson) to catch people’s imagination. That version of the song soared to international acclaim. Besides the rotoscoping, the second video highlighted Harket’s crystalline falsetto and made him a leading man in a romantic story.
The documentary looks at the different personalities and how they played out, sometimes clashing in London and how success found them and how they sometimes struggled to find their way, often hindered by how their record label wanted to market them. The film makes it clear that this was a band formed based on musicianship, not friendship. They were not a one-hit wonder, but they were a trio with egos and, as we see in the documentary, they were young men growing up and growing old.
- a-ha: The Making of “Take On Me” (The Story of the Song)
- a-ha: The Making of “Take On Me” (The Story of the Video)
- a-ha: The Making of “Take On Me” (The Legacy)
In researching this documentary, I was able to watch it at home and even simultaneously with YouTube videos. The lyrics to “Take On Me” took on a different meaning for me as the week that the film made its premiere at Tribeca, my oldest dog, Kirisame died. a-ha’s MTV version has come to haunt me and is forever connected to my dog’s last week.
If this film has reignited your passion for this Norweigan trio and you live in North America, you’re out of luck. Their rescheduled Los Angeles concerts at The Wiltern in April are completely sold out. You’ll have better luck in Japan in January 2022 (Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo and Shizuoka one-nighters). Wish I could be there.
“a-ha: The Movie” had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, 12 June 2021.