sweden

monicaz

Monica Z

The last couple of weeks have been reasonably busy, and so I haven’t managed to immerse myself in the Scandinavian Film Festival as I’d hoped. There was one film, however, I definitely wanted to see on the big screen, having previously seen it only a small screen: the movie about the life of Swedish jazz singer, Monica Zetterlund.

I’d first heard about Monica twenty or thirty years ago, as Frida from ABBA had described her as one of her idols. The story of a jazz singer from a small country town who, in 1960s Sweden, has to find a balance between career and family is a theme in both their lives.

In the time since, I’ve come to know and really enjoy Monica’s work. I think my favourite song of hers is her Swedish language version of “Take 5″: it’s a great tune, sung with passion and energy. The film explains this particular song, and many of her others, comes from Monica’s desire to sing (mostly in Swedish) about things in her life. The film details a meeting with Ella Fitzgerald, where Ella, quite directly tells her not to sing about New Orleans and other such things (the staples of 1950s and 1960s jazz), but about stuff she knows.

Monica’s own experiences of travelling to New York are documented in the film: an early disastrous performance where the show was shut down because her backing musicians were black; and a later more successful show that brings her family and friends to tears. The film documents a difficult relationship with her father who lives in the small town of Hagfors. “Do you have any idea where that is?”, I whispered to Grant. Later, over a drink, we looked it up, locating it in the middle of Sweden, towards the border with Norway. There’s a really funny scene in the movie (which I won’t spoil) about Monica’s personal vow never to return to Hagfors.

I really loved this film. It’s a great story. Great music. Features great performances. And has beautiful cinematography which deserves the big screen. I really hope the film gets a broader cinematic run in Australia.

PS: After watching the movie we went out for a drink and a chat. We joked we should have played the “Monica Zetterlund Drinking Game”. It’s the game where you watch the film and have a drink every time she does. You would end up pretty sloshed pretty quickly. She liked a drink or 25,000, it seems.

welcometosweden

Welcome To Sweden

For a few years I’ve toyed with the idea of living in Sweden for a year or two. However, there are a few reasons which have stopped me. Money is, of course, an issue. The fact that I’m 48 years old is also an issue. But there’s also been a fear it could all turn out to go terribly wrong.

I’ve read blogs and have spoken to a number of people who’ve told me it’s not as easy as it seems on the surface, even if I could overcome some of those issues. Although Swedes speak exceptional English, there are lots of cultural subtleties and a lot of unspoken cultural barriers which means it’s not always easy for someone from another country to settle there.

Or maybe I’m just over-thinking things?

So it’s with some interest that I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Welcome To Sweden”, the new TV4/NBC program which has commenced. Curiously, the program is based around the life story of Greg Poehler (brother of Amy from Saturday Night Live). Bruce made the decision to move to Sweden a few years ago, and has made a career doing stand-up. The fact his sister is Amy (and she was the program’s producer) undoubtedly helped pitch the idea of a program about a bloke who moves to Sweden both to Swedish TV and to NBC. I’m sure it also helped with guest appearances by the likes of Will Ferrell.

But all of that said, it’s also a very funny program. I’ve watched the first two episodes so far and have laughed out loud on many occasions. Having a knowledge of some of the quirkiness of Swedish culture has definitely helped. Noticeably, the humour is affectionate, as the lead character called Bruce learns about Swedish character.

Hopefully, the programme transcends the Swedishness of it all when it makes a debut on NBC later in the year. That said, there’s a lot of Swedish language in the program, which undoubtedly will be eliminated when it appears on American TV. I can imagine there’ll be the occasional word or phrase here or there, but the Swedish version of the program contains probably far too much (requiring subtitles) for a mainstream US audience.

Anton Ewald

Melodifestivalen 2014 #4

Alcazar

Alcazar

Ah yes, I remember it well. It was Stockholm Pride in 2011, and Graeme and I were there in the front row for the final ever performance by legendary Swedish pop group, Alcazar. There was a real sense of sadness in the crowd, as Alcazar had delivered so many wonderful pop music memories.

The sadness didn’t last long, because eventually Alcazar would make a comeback, and another, and another. And thank goodness they have, because they brought a really great excitement for the opening of the fourth heat of Melodifestivalen, the finals which choose which song goes on to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest.

In many ways their entry was going over old ground. Their song sounded like just about every other Alcazar song from the last five years (Fredrik Kempe made his fourth consecutive appearance in this year’s competition), and their dance routines are in desperate need of an update. But they’re Alcazar and the Swedish public loves them. Well, more than they did last year anyway, when they never made it to the final. This year, thankfully, Alcazar made it through.

Anton Ewald

Anton Ewald

There was a lot to like about the songs and performers in the fourth and final heat. The second track “Fight Me If You Dare” by I.D.A was a surprise favourite of mine. I also really liked “Hollow” by Janet Leon. Sadly, neither made it through to either the final or Andra Chansen. Anton Ewald, a favourite of mine from last year, thankfully did make it through, though the song he has this year is not up to the standard of last year’s hit, “Begging”. Still, he’s a terrific dancer and quite a cutie.

The hosts for the television presentation weren’t as awful as they’ve been in previous weeks. Still awful, but not as awful.

It's not The Footy Show

Melodifestivalen 2014 #3

“Oh my God, it’s The Footy Show”, I thought to myself as I watched the opening moments of the third heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen, the Swedish selection process for the Eurovision Song Contest. A big boofy bloke in a dress is always hilarious, isn’t it?

Well, no actually. Even though the audience laughs, uncomfortably, there’s nothing amusing about the hosts for the contest this year. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but as hosts for Melodifestivalen, their humour comes across as self-indulgent, forced, and ultimately, fairly lame.

Despite the awful hosts, I quite liked a lot of the songs on this week’s show. The opening “Nine Inch Nails” inspired rock and roll song was great. The second track, “Red” by EKO was also really impressive. A day or so later, I’m still singing along to the chorus of “All We Are” from State Of Drama. But as soon as the songs were over, and having endured the awful interval act, I switched the television off. I caught up with the results on Twitter.

There’s something deeply unsatisfactory about this year’s Melodifestivalen. As @scandipop tweeted, “Oh God even Bj√∂rn Gustafsson is dying on his arse. Why can’t they get anything outside of the songs right this year?!”

My other favourite tweet about the night was about Shirley Clamp. Wickedly, @melodipopvision observed “(Shirley is just out the back, swigging on a bottle and fielding calls from Stockholm gay clubs about the #melfest finalen weekend.)” I love Shirley Clamp. She’s had some really wonderful songs over the years, and would probably be called as “Melodifestivalen Royalty”. That’s the problem I guess. In the same way the tele-voting has rejected the likes of Alcazar and Army Of Lovers in recent years in favour of the younger “Idol” acts, disappointingly, Shirley never even made it to the second chance heat.

The other great comeback of the week was the duo by Dr Alban – “Sing Hallelujah” – and Jessica Folker. On paper, there was so much potential. In reality, there was too much Dr Alban and not enough Jessica, unfortunately. They made it through, but only just.

Hilarious Comedy :)

Hilarious Comedy :)

Though the selected artists might change, there’s one constant in Melodifestivalen this year: the weekly appearances of song-writer, Fredrik Kempe. My friend Graeme thinks I’m too harsh in my criticism of Kempe. For his part, Graeme recognises that Fredrik has contributed some really great songs to Melodifestivalen over the last few years, and that, being a smallish country, the song-writer gene pool obviously doesn’t go that deep. For my part, I don’t think it’s acceptable that his songs have been selected in all three heats so far. Surely he’s not back next week for the fourth?

That said, if I had to choose between never seeing Fredrik Kempe again, and never seeing this year’s Melodifestivalen hosts again, Fredrik would win hands down.