Abba’s back and we Cher can’t wait (!)

THE FIFTH COLUMN

Gosh, has it been 10 years since the release of the movie Mamma Mia!?

Sorry about the punctuation pile-up there; it can’t be helped when the namers of these things put exclamation marks at their titles’ ends. We’ve had similar problems with a lot of South African works (see Sarafina!), which seem particularly prone to exclamation marks. It’s like every title wants to be a Daily Sun poster.

Oh, and there’s another typographical issue that we have to deal with: Abba (the band, now performing in avatar or hologram form, so we’re led to believe) would like us to put its name all in caps. That seems to us excessive, so we won’t. Who do they think they are? An NGO?

How time flies. A full decade, then, since a whole lot of old songs off Abba’s Greatest Hits were recycled, resung and popped like beads on the string of a preposterous little storyline about Meryl Streep having to work out which of three men was the father of her daughter. I suppose it was no more preposterous than other major works of art dealing with genealogical complications; one thinks here in particular of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

One thinks, too, of that other masterpiece of pop-myth recycling, Star Wars by George Lucas, in which incest was averted only by the width of a wookiee’s whisker.

Ten years since Mamma Mia!! (Actually, it’s more, because it was a stage musical before it reached the big screen, but let’s not worry about its prehistory.)

Ten years since Streep stood on a windswept cliff at sunset (or was it sunrise?) and belted out The Winner Takes It All in a performance to send a shiver down the spine of the Collective Unconscious! And to think: she was 59 then, and looking a mere 42-and-a-half. A decade later, she’s 69 [yes, we can add — Ed], and not looking a day over 49-and-two-thirds.

Streep’s amazing ability to look a mere 72-hundredths of her actual age is matched only by the extraordinary capacity of Cher, who is still going strong at 92, to look like she’s only about 70 and therefore able to play the mother of a 49-and-two-thirds-year-old. Yes, the everlasting (or do I mean nonbiodegradable?) Cher will play Meryl’s mom in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Her song in the movie, apparently (and unfortunately, there aren’t many Greatest Hits left to recycle), is Fernando, that joyous ballad about the Spanish Civil War that first appeared, pop geeks will note, not on an Abba album proper but on singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad’s solo album Anni Alone in 1975.

Did I say the Spanish Civil War? Sorry. A quick google reveals that that is by no means certain. It could be about the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, a theory founded on the mention of the Rio Grande in the song. Except there’s also a Rio Grande in Bolivia, so it could be about Che Guevara’s last stand.

Whichever war it was, it’s clear that if Cher had do the same again, she would, my friend, Fernando.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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