Long a Will Farrell fan, when the movie came to my Netflix in May, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, I figured it would land somewhere in his standard range: silly with funny moments or hysterical boarding on classic. Spoiler-alert, if you have not seen this movie, watch before reading on.
Long a fan of Abba, especially after moving to Europe many years ago, and also having had a fair amount of dealings with Iceland, the beginning of the film can only be summed up with the words thick amazing sweaters, coziness, timeless music and beer-infused — a nice start. By the two-minute mark, however, my seatbelts were fastened, chair reclined just enough to remove that awkward leaning-forward feeling and I was readying myself to place a drink order with the flight attendant!
I was traveling again, people. This movie took me to the beautiful landscape of Iceland, a place I have never been to; and, to Edinburg, where I have been. It took us backstage at a real Eurovision contest and exploded so many of the unsung musical talents across the screen in a song and dance scene that will one day be up there with the original Gene Kelly version of “Singing in the Rain;” or, any scene from the movie That’s Entertainment.
During the week before the film came out, I heard an interview with Will Farrell on Howard Stern. Will had perfectly described the Eurovision Contest to Stern’s predominantly American audience. It’s like Circus Soleil meets American Idol meets a residency show in Vegas. As much as I would like to spend a thousand words painting a picture of my first reaction to this sort-of folk festival, Will’s depiction will suffice. I first saw it in 1994 and have loved marveling at it ever since.
Will Farrell in another interview with Conan O’Brien summed the film up as a lot of good and original music. I honestly doubted this until two-minutes and twenty seconds into the film. Granted the song, “Volcano Man,” at first seems a bit odd but by the end of the movie something inside was telling me — I need to hear all of the film’s songs again — and again and again and again.
Fortunately, my 3-year old son also loved the songs and since May, we have become part of the millions of unique views who have watched the movie’s originals and the tons of covers on YouTube. There is truly something so familiar and even a little magical about these pure-and-unadulterated pop songs. Please, if you are the biggest Uriah Heep fan in the universe, these songs will explode your music circuits; but if you are musically-varied enough to appreciate at one moment Uriah Heep’s classic “July Morning” and Abba’s “Waterloo” in the next, then Will Farrell’s songs — he did all of his own singing — along with actress Rachel McAdams’s lip-synching will surely feel like a thick stack of fluffy pancakes topped off with natural maple syrup.
At the height of the quarantine, but also when the days were getting longer, the weather warmer and the desire to go on long walks, have barbecue’s with friends and travel home to see family and friends, the Eurovision movie churned up a lot of unknown expectation inside of me. Those feelings of being lured to the unknown returned to me. June 1984, entering the Pan Am flight for Zurich and heading off to Switzerland to be an exchange student, I was certain I could feel the same anxiety that Icelandic Vikings felt as they guided their crafts ashore and then stepping foot on the North American continent.
I am sure it was the lore of Iceland and Vikings that made this film even more lasting. So many of of us spent a fair portion of 2020 stuck at home — in 2019, I had an off year in travel terms only accumulating 54,000 miles — and so not leaving my small region of St. Petersburg, Russia was filling me with claustrophobia. Similar to the way Leif Erikson might have felt, being stuck on the volcanic island of Iceland, I too was stuck in my home office; stuck in another country and unable to travel for work or play let alone go home.
The Eurovision movie became my Islendingur Viking ship — it transported me to places, feelings and moods I had not anticipated. The Year of the Pandemic, 2020, will be remembered for many things. I became a master bread-maker and fluent in German. So much good time was shared with my son and wife, creating several albums full of memories and moments — but for song?
2020, quite unexpectedly, also will be remembered for the power oral storytelling, brilliantly mixed with visuals and sensations that had begun to recede from the mind’s eye, thanks to Will Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan and many others.
Within Iceland, locals only go by their name and patronymic. Last names are used outside of the country. For example, Thor Magnusson — Thor the son of Magnus. Thor’s father might be Magnus Ragnar— Magnus son of Ragnar. It is said that local old-timers in the small fishing villages can run back a lineage hundreds and hundreds of years fully reconstructing the oral history for the tiny island nation.
Thanks to the Eurovision Song Contest: The Fire Saga Story movie, many of us will more permanently and positively be able to recall this very sad and odd year as 2020, the year we escaped ourselves thanks to Iceland.
PS: My wife saw the title of this article and doubted the power of the movie. I asked her to wait one second while I found the song “Volcano Man” on YouTube. By the fifth note of that song, my son raced out of the bedroom and jumped into my arms to watch it — the movie and the songs truly create magic in many unexpected ways. Try it!