Music Video of the Day: SOS by ABBA (1975, dir. Lasse Hallström)


Yay! A good ABBA song, with a good music video to go with it! I forgot these existed after the last few that I did.

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The music video starts off and immediately introduces us to one of the running things in this video. That’s the use of different techniques to obfuscate or generally distance things from each other. In this case, it’s that funhouse mirror effect that distorts what you are seeing without necessarily destroying it beyond recognition.

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We then cut to Agnetha for a long take where she even reaches out to us like the song says. I love this shot not only because of its apparent isolation, but because we will see a tiny detail added to this later on in the video that is the reason I used the word “apparent”.

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Then we see this kaleidoscope effect. This time around it spins before settling on one of the guys. In some cases, it will keep spinning without stopping. Sometimes it acts as a transition, and other times it reinforces the lyrics.

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Then we get the shot that is easily the most iconic for the video. The band on what looks like a rocky beach looking upward almost as if they are asking for divine intervention.

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There are some close-up shots and a repeat of the kaleidoscope effect before we settle on Agnetha again. Look over her left shoulder. It is what appears to be Benny and Björn walking into frame. They are in the background and out of focus, but are still just a little ways behind her like the lyrics she is singing say: “You seem so far away, though you are standing near.”

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Then we get this shot where they do the outside shot, but from what looks like the set of the video from Mamma Mia. It may be the same set, but they are wearing different costumes. My best guess is contrast. The outside where they look sad with a shot from the typical set of one of their videos where they look happy.

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Another time we get a short shot of them lying on grass. Maybe contrast again since it does cutaway from that back to the straight-up shot quickly.

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As the song comes to a close, the video whips out all the distortion effects. This one, to the point where you know it is Agnetha, but you can’t even see her face anymore. It’s interesting to note that these distortions are used to either merge someone’s face or pull it in two–both of which are still a distorted view. The wheel can give a clear shot or something that is a swirling blur–its all or nothing. I have no doubt that this is another one of the many ways in which Hallström created visual contrast to go with the song. He also increased the frequency of the distortions at the right time as the video works towards the separation shot below.

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Before we return to the piano, we get another straight-down shot, except this time the two guys are looking down while the two girls look upwards. I know I will mention it in the future, but I really like how Hallström made use of the fact that he had two straight married couples. If even one of those things was changed, then I’m sure the videos would look different or wouldn’t be as effective. It allowed him to do Busby-Berkeley-like things by taking advantage of their inherent contrast, sexual attraction, and real world connections beyond just friendship–working and otherwise.

All these things stitched together, and you get a visual representation of a relationship that is falling apart without ever having to show them walking away from each other. I will sing the praises of the video for Knowing Me, Knowing You till the day I die. However, that used them actually walking away. Sure, it did other clever things such as visually representing fluid relationships within the band and regret for failed relationships, but I still find it impressive that this video didn’t make use of two people walking away from each other. That would have been so easy, but it does just the opposite. The group is shown together again and again. We can see from their perspective and the inner turmoil within them, but there isn’t any literal distance. Even one of Agnetha’s solo shots has the guys pop-up in the background to remind us she isn’t really alone.

One last thing I want to mention is that the working title for this song was Turn Me On. That is a bit more literal and helps me grasp the song better, but I like the desperation SOS conveys.

Enjoy!

ABBA retrospective:

  1. Ring, Ring by ABBA (1973, dir. Lasse Hallström)
  2. Ring, Ring by ABBA (1973, dir. ???)
  3. Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough) by ABBA (1973, dir. ???)
  4. Waterloo by ABBA (1974, dir. Lasse Hallström)
  5. Hasta Mañana by ABBA (1974, dir. ???)
  6. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do by ABBA (1975, dir. Lasse Hallström)
  7. I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do by ABBA (1975, dir. ???)
  8. Bang-A-Boomerang by ABBA (1975, dir. Lasse Hallström)
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37 responses to “Music Video of the Day: SOS by ABBA (1975, dir. Lasse Hallström)

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