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The TV Set Banging On About ABBA
ABC1 make ABBA official

Andrew Mast

The TV Set: Still Banging On About ABBA

Their manager had a habit of making drunken press announcements; they rubbed shoulders with Brian Wilson, Robert Plant and Sid Vicious; their post-show parties were notoriously debauched affairs; one member's father was revealed to be a Nazi. Yet somehow after a briefly intense period of mega-stardom in Australia, here ABBA came to be considered as squeaky clean types totally lacking in musical credibility. 

In 1977, the backlash was as savage as the popularity had been frenzied. ABC1's Bang A Boomerang documentary attempts to record this odd shift in our pop culture history. Considering some of the lightweight filler ABBA 'specials' we have suffered in Australia when networks have jumped on the various ABBA revival bandwagons (even Angela Bishop cranked one out), this one's vacuous title belies its journalistic endeavour to place the '70s ABBA phenomenon into a political and cultural context. [The doco is named after a 1975 throwaway ABBA album track that seems to have been chosen because y'know, boomerangs are Aussie... 1981's Slipping Through My Fingers may have been more apt given the subject matter.]

While some of Bang's chronology is murky and some points presented as 'facts' are more opinion, it's the quality of interview subjects that sets it apart from previous Australian-produced retrospectives about the Swedish pop quartet. There's the band's in-house video director Lasse Hallstrom (now an Oscar-winning director down with Depp, DiCaprio and McGregor), their Australian publicist Annie Wright (basically credited for bringing the band global fame) and former bodyguard Richard Norton (once rumoured to have been romantically entangled with one of the ABBA women - he wasn't). These folk actually possess some inner sanctum tittle-tattle that surprisingly hasn't been over-exploited.

While the Bang gang also includes celebs-as-fans, these aren't just publicity-hungry b-listers reading from notes their PR folk gleaned from a Wiki page. Amongst the celebs are RocKwiz's Julia Zemiro who can trace her ABBA obsession directly to her current day job (and annual Eurovision host side-gig) and The Adventures Of Priscilla director Stephan Elliot (his 1994 film played a key role in rekindling this country's ABBA passion). Molly Meldrum - who was Wright's target for marketing the band here - recalls how ABBA fans went into the closet post-'77 for fear of being tagged 'gay' while pop icon John Paul Young explains how he became the public face of the ABBA backlash. Also, for those pining to have Daryl Somers back on our screens, he gets some Bang action too. But Bang's trump (bubblegum) card is the presence of ABBA fanatics who still tear up at the recollection of the 1977 tour, running a fan club and even meeting the band. 

And, there's nostalgic footage: rarely seen glimpses of a Sydney press conference, Robert Hughes-less snippets from ABBA The Movie and a long-haired Kerry O'Brien reporting on christians' pleas to ban the group because unmarried members of ABBA 'lived in sin'.

Dodgy theories are kept to a minimum (there's a doozy about why 'gays' took 'ownership' of ABBA) but there is some inexplicable, and lame, footage of more recent ABBA fan events (you get the feeling this may have initially been pitched to coincide with 2010's ABBAworld exhibition). Bang ends with a fizzle as its title is weakly excused in a conclusion that could have been written for Dean Cain on Believe It Or Not: "The song [Bang A Boomerang] was written two years before the Swedes ever came here. A premonition? Maybe...".  And fade to... what looks like an ABBA-themed office party with drunken singalongs. Or quite possibly it's an obscure homage to the band's private past. 

Bang A Boomerang screens 8.30pm, Wednesday 30 January on ABC1.

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