“Husavik – My Home Town”, the closing number in director David Dobkin’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” – based on a screenplay by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele with Ferrell co-producing and playing the male lead – is an affectionate homage to that old warhorse of music competitions the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) and has made Oscar’s shortlist for Best Original Song of 2020. It deserves not just to be shortlisted but to be nominated and then, to win the damn thing!
The first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano, Italy, in 1956, was a distinctly Western European affair with just seven entries: Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy and the winner (in French), Switzerland.
After sixteen-year-old Gigliola Cinquetti won the 1964 contest for Italy with the haunting “Non ho l’eta (par amarti)” there was a quite a jump in entries for the 1965 soiree, including my home country, Ireland.
It took 10 years, from the first Eurovision, for a song with English lyrics (appropriately from the United Kingdom) to win when, in 1967, Sandy Shaw (who always sang barefoot – a minor sensation), took home the honors with “Puppet on a String”.
Mirroring history in general, it wasn’t long before English displaced French as the show’s lingua franca. Beginning in the seventies, countries outside of Europe were allowed to compete, starting with Israel in 1973, Cyprus and Morocco (just once) in 1980, Armenia in 2006 and even Australia in 2015. Things also became more political, resulting in block voting and intense rivalry mainly in the Caucuses region, Russia, Turkey, Israel, countries from the former Eastern Block and the new states formed from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, leaving the original seven, and Western Europe in general, with a waning influence.
Iceland has participated in the Eurovision 32 times since its debut in 1986 and it has never won (although it came in second in 1999 and 2009). I would posit that it was this 32:0 statistic that prompted Dobkin, Ferrell and Steel (Ferrell is, supposedly, a big Eurovision fan) to make their protagonists, Lars Erickssong (played by Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (played by Rachel McAdams), Icelandic. Best friends since childhood, with an undercurrent of possibly something more, they make up the group Fire Saga which, despite having only played a few bars in their home town, manage to end up representing Iceland at the ESC. The filmmakers seem to have realized that, over the years, Eurovision has become a parody of it’s former self. So, how do you parody something that is already a parody? You don’t. Ferrell and company have taken the opposite track playing the contest relatively straight and treating the both the songs and the singers with respect. And it works. Eurovision could not have hoped for a more fitting tribute. Unfortunately the movie’s timing could not have been worse. Set to be released to coincide with the 2020 Eurovision, the emergence of COVID saw the competition cancelled and movie theatres
Then, there is the fact that, in the US, Eurovision is virtually an unknown entity with only Eurovision aficianados knowing that Spain’s Mocedades (“Young People”) with “Eres Tu” (runner-up in ’73) and Sweden’s Abba with “Waterloo” (winners in ’74) both made Billboard’s 1974 top 10, peaking at numbers 9 and 6, respectively.
Also, that those old perennials “Volare” and “Love is Blue” (“L’amour est blue” ) are both Eurovision non-winners from1958 (Italy, final position 3rd) and 1967 (Luxembourg, final position 4th), respectively.
As for the Best Original Song Oscar, during Hollywood’s heyday, the winner was usually a classic song from a bad movie: Something like “Over the Rainbow” winning from “The Wizard of Oz” (classic song from a classic movie) was decidedly the exception. A much more typical scenario was, say, Mona Lisa (some would call it a classic) winning from Captain Cary, USA (some would not call it a classic).
As pop and rock replaced easy listening, jazz and the blues, the standard of the Best Original Song category began to slide. I like to remind myself, that, in early 1978 – for the Best Original Song of 1977 – the Music Branch of the Academy failed to nominate even a single song from the “Saturday Night Fever“ Soundtrack“. That’s year’s winner was the best forgotten “You Light Up My Life”!
The last truly great Best Song winner was probably “The Way We Were” (Hamlish and the Bergmans). Over the last two decades I think maybe three of the Best Song winners are worthy of the title: Loose Yourself (Eminem) from 8 Mile (2002), Skyfall (Adele) from Skyfall (2012) and Shallow (Lady Gaga) from A Star is Born in 2018.
Husavik is, I think, in this category. While the other numbers in Eurovision Song Contest capture, with tounge-in-cheek elan, the inimitable somewhat trashy Eurovision sound, Husavik stands apart with its soaring melody and heartfelt lyrics – any song with the immortal line “where the whales can live ’cause they’re gentle people” gets my vote. Kudos then to the songwriters, composer Atli Orvarsson and the lyricists Savan Kotecha, Richard Goransson and Fat Max Gsus. Kudos also to the gorgeous production by Gsus and the stunning vocal by Molly Sanden who sings like her life depended on it – with a very competent lip synch by Rachel. Add to this the fact that, without exception, all of the others songs on the shortlist are so forgettable that I’ve already forgotten them. We can only hope.
“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available for streaming on Netflix.