SBS ONE Eurovision coverage
Semi-Final 1: Fri May 25, 8:30pm
Semi-Final 2: Sat May 26, 8:30pm
Final: Sun May 27, 7:30pm
Given the globally-televised event has a devoted, almost fanatical following and has been running since 1956, it’s surprising the Eurovision Song Contest has inspired relatively few movies and documentaries.
Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat and Brüno screenwriter Dan Mazer planned to make a big screen spoof but abandoned it, perhaps because the cheesy, glitzy event proved to be immune to satirical barbs.
In Sweden, a nation that’s seemingly obsessed with Eurovision, the 2000 comedy Livet Är En Schlager (Once in a Lifetime) paid homage to the talent quest.
The 2004 animated German comedy Derrick – Die Pflicht Ruft! (Derrick – Duty Calls!), a spin-off from a long-running TV series, revolved around a dastardly plot by one competitor to eliminate his rivals.
Among the documentaries, Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary (pictured) centred on four hopefuls in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2007; Australia’s Electric Pictures shot The Secret History of Eurovision last year (part one below); and US director Marina Zenovich’s Estonia Dreams of Eurovision! looked at how winning and hosting the event impacted one small country.
In the ultimate vanity project, Fairytale The Movie documented the life of Norway’s Alexander Rybak in the months after his 2009 victory in Moscow, gushingly billed as an “incredible journey”. Apart from that, very little of the occasion’s mystique has been exploited or captured on screen despite an evident hunger for such fare among many fans.
Actor Dolph Lundgren credits his appearance as one of the hosts of the Swedish national selection in 2010, when he performed the Elvis Presley hit 'A Little Less Conversation', for helping to change the perception of him as purely an action star.
"I had to do a little singing and dancing and people saw me as who I am and realised that maybe I’m not so stupid after all,” Lundgren told the Hollywood Reporter just after The Expendables, in which he co-starred with Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li, had topped the US box-office.
After the Eurovision website ran that story, one admirer, Helena Justin of Spain, posted this comment, “Eurovision would be a great story for a film, it has all ingredients, music, fun, beautiful places. A romantic comedy in the middle of ESC. Who wants to do it?” That elicited this response from Antoine DeLilac from France, “I'm not sure if Eurovision would make for a very good story/movie. Maybe someone with talent could pull it off.”
There’s no doubt Sacha Baron Cohen is smart and talented but he and Mazer were forced to abandon their plans for a Eurovision movie. Back in 2007, Mazer and The History Boys producer Damian Jones made a deal with Working Title Films to develop Eurovision: The Movie, a comedy about a self-deluded pop star who enters the contest. Baron Cohen boarded the project in 2009, originally planning to play Brüno as the lead character before he and Mazer decided to create a completely new role. They pulled the pin on 2010 as The Sun reported, "Sacha and Dan have been feverishly working on the film for a long time now, they'd completed a lot of preparatory work and had a team assisting them, but they've axed the idea – they felt that it wasn't working."
Danish director Susanne Bier’s Livet Är En Schlager focused on Eurovision fan Mona Berglund (Helena Bergström), a care worker who named her four daughters after Swedish singers Carola, Lena Ph, Kicki and Anna Book. Mona writes the lyrics for a song composed by the wheelchair-bound man she looks after and records it. Trouble ensues after her unemployed husband secretly mails a tape of her performance to the jury selecting songs for Sweden's entry in the contest.
“The theme of the story is universal, and, as always in Bier's films, performances are excellent,” opined Variety’s review.
Derrick – Die Pflicht Ruft! followed Inspector Stephan Derrick (voiced by Horst Tappert), who had reduced the crime rate in Munich to zero when he is called on to investigate deaths surrounding German’s national selection for the contest. The shifty schlager king Arno Hello (Gustav-Peter Wöhler) is desperate to win but is behind in the polls so he decides to eliminate all other competitors, no matter what. First to go are the so-called Irreplaceable Boys, further murders follow and the eccentric Arno Hello is the main suspect.
The Derrick series ran on German television for 24 years and 281 episodes, ending in 1998, and was sold to more than 100 countries. The soundtrack of the movie was represented in the German final in 2004 by Ich Schenk Dir Mein Herz, sung by Tina Frank, but didn’t qualify for the Eurovision final.
First-time director Jamie Jay Johnson’s Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary tracked a handful of teenagers as they prepared to travel to Rotterdam for the junior edition of the contest. “The film’s crescendo is the contest, but it’s the role of the kids’ backgrounds in shaping their image of themselves that proves most intriguing,” declared Time Out London’s review.
“The majority are well-off – but Georgia’s Mariam stands out: she comes from a home as modest as her personality and has half her nation rooting for her. Some annoying animations aside, Johnson serves the story well and strikes a welcome tone by taking his subjects just seriously enough.”
The Secret History of Eurovision (part two below) was commissioned by SBS Australia, RTE (Ireland), WDR (Germany), More4 (UK), DR (Denmark), NRK (Norway), NTR (Netherlands), SVT (Sweden), VRT (Belgium) and YLE Teema (Finland).
Directed by Stephen Oliver, the doco relates how Marcel Besançon, a Swiss exec working for the European Broadcasting Union, came up with the idea of staging a live, pan-European singing competition to promote the-then nascent television services of Western Europe and bring the divided nations of war-torn Europe closer together in a shared celebration of music. Just seven countries took part in the first Eurovision Song Contest in Lugarno, Switzerland in 1956. During the Cold War, the Eurovision stage was seen as a symbol of Western fun and freedom and only a few people in the Eastern bloc were able to watch it by tuning in to the Finnish TV signals.
In the BBC production Estonia Dreams of Eurovision!, Marina Zenovich travelled to the country the year after its singing duo Dave Benton, one of the few black people in Estonia, and Tanel Padar, won the contest. She found Benton and Padar were no longer speaking and their winning song had not been released.
Directed by Norway’s Rune Langlo, Fairytale The Movie documented the weeks and months after violinist Rybak’s victory, showing him on tour and back stage.
“Meet Alexander in his preparations for his biggest tour yet, hear him tell about how he is dealing with it all, and see his endless love for his fans,” says the blurb on Rybak’s website. Sheer hyperbole, but that could sum up the whole Eurovision phenomenon.
It’s billed as Europe’s favourite TV show but the Eurovision Song Contest has rarely been a catalyst for feature films.
SBS ONE Eurovision coverage
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