It’s time to get excited, folks! It’s just over two weeks til the most fabulous night on the Australian television calendar… No! I’m not talking about The Logies, I’m talking, of course, about the Eurovision Song Contest!
Now, some might say a month isn’t a long time, but if you’re a Euro tragic and you literally can’t wait for the show itself, you’re in luck: Here’s a list of the best Eurovision-related documentaries you can watch just to whet your palate whilst you anticipate the delicious main course.
1. Conchita: Unstoppable
This film is a love song to Austria’s favourite bearded lady. Conchita Wurst is arguably the most famous Eurovision contestant in recent years and we all know that with great fame comes great responsibility to document every moment of that fame for your adoring public. In that spirit, we follow Conchita from the cabaret circuit to the talk show circuit via the Golden Globes, Mardi Gras and any number of events on a similar scale of fabulousness. Conchita’s win might have caused some raised eyebrows in Europe’s more conservative (read: homophobic) pockets, but she does seem - as the title suggests - to be unstoppable.
Watch it now on SBS On Demand:
Conchita seems to have worked out the trick of making fame into more fame but these guys, not so much. Monsterman is an unapologetic look at what it’s like when your 15 minutes are suddenly up, which is what happened to Tomi Putaansuu, the front man of Finnish Heavy Metal group, Lordi, the 2006 Eurovision winners. For awhile they were on top of the world, but after a few years their luck - and their money - had run out. (I’m thinking their need for incredibly elaborate make-up and expensive monster costumes probably had something to do with it.)
Watch it now on SBS On Demand:
3. The Punk Syndrome
This film introduces us to a Finnish punk-rock band whose members are all living with some some sort of a disability. It’s a brilliant look at how sometimes having an artistic outlet is all you need to quell the frustrations of everyday living. The group competed in Eurovision a few years after they were featured in this documentary but it’s still interesting to watch, knowing how much further they managed to go and how many people around the world they managed to inspire.
Watch it now on SBS On Demand:
4. Estonia: Dreams of Eurovision
This is one of the earlier Eurovision docos, which is basically a behind the scenes look at the lead up to the contest in Estonia in 2002. Filmmaker Marina Zenovich turned on her camera and found a wealth of ridiculousness to document, from contestant in-fighting, a last-minute ditching of the host, romantic entanglements and political upheaval.
5. Euro Euphoria
This one isn’t about the crazy contestants, the bizarre choreography or the catfights behind the scenes - it’s a doco purely about the obsessive fans for whom Eurovision isn’t just a night on the couch following the action on Twitter: it’s a yearly pilgrimage. This doco is fun and silly and also weirdly sweet at the same time - you watch these crazy folks come together from all around Europe (and the world) for the love of questionable music and you start to think, “why can’t we all just get along?”
(I know. I’m getting soft. I’ll harden up.)
6. The Secret History of Eurovision
I really wish I’d thought of the idea for this doco because it’s a cracker: the history of 20th century Europe as seen through the Eurovision song contest.
It tells us how a Swiss TV executive had the genius idea of hosting a pan-European singing competition as a way of trying to unite a divided continent in the years following World War Two. What follows is this excellent look at Europe and how a yearly celebration of bad singing and even worse taste was impacted by - and survived - civil wars, the cold war and countless other social and political upheavals since it began in 1956.
7. 1968: The Year Franco stole the Eurovision
It’s not a TV doco but a radio one, about the contentious 1968 competition when a random Spanish contestant stole the prize from host city London’s Hometown Hero, Cliff Richards. At the time little more than a surprise upset, it’s since been revealed as a total fraud with the corruption rising all the way to the top - the former Spanish leader General Francisco Franco.
8. Fairytale The Movie
Remember young Alexander Rybak, the sweet kid from Norway who won the show in 2009? No, neither do I, but if you needed reminding, someone made a pretty gushing documentary about the “incredible journey” he’s been on since his 2009 victory in Moscow.
9. Eurovision’s Dirty Secret
This one isn’t so much a documentary as it is an episode of the BBC show Panorama but it’s completely compulsive viewing so I’ve included it. The episode goes under-cover in the super-secretive nation, Azerbaijan in the week before it hosts the Eurovision song contest, discovering a deep well of corruption from the bulldozing of people’s houses to make way for the 20,000-seat concert venue to the promotion of the President’s son-in-law as the singer representing the country. It’s a completely fascinating look at how important something like Eurovision becomes - knowing how many people are potentially watching - to a country on the up, trying to make a name for itself at any cost.
10. How to Win Eurovision
Okay, so this is definitely not a doco - it’s a BBC TV special - but it’s good fun all the same.
This is basically two blokes going through all the biggest and best winners and working out what the recipe for victory looks like. Basically what they discover is that you need a good sob story, you need to have a bit of a gimmick and you should be a good singer but definitely not the best singer. (A bum note or two doesn’t hurt cos it’ll get you a few sympathy votes.) Essentially, it’s just a 2-hour “best of” special, but who doesn’t love a chance revisit the famous - and the infamous - in Eurovision’s hall of fame?
Watch The Eurovision Song Contest on SBS at 7.30pm (AEST) on Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May with LIVE early morning broadcasts on Wednesday 11, Friday 13 and Sunday 15 May.