"What song the Sirens sang?
" ~Sir Thomas BrowneCronos Odysseus, steer your boat
Toward Silver Island whence we sing:
Here you shall pass your days.
Through a thick-growing alder-wood
We clearly see, but are not seen,
Hid in a golden haze.
Our hair the hue of barley sheaf,
Our eyes the hue of blackbird's egg,
Our cheeks like asphodel.
Here nothing ill or harsh is found,
Cronos Odysseus, steer your boat
Across these placid straits.
A starry crown awaits your head,
A hero feast is spread for you:
Swineflesh, milk and mead.
~Homer, the OdysseyYou are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.
Dancing queen, feel the beat, from the tambourine.
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, digging the dancing queen.
~Abba, Dancing Queen
Throughout history there has always been a feminine undercurrent in the great
myths and legends. The English poet Robert Graves named it "The White Goddess"
; a large body of speculative and interpretive literature has been written about the subject since the 1948 publication of Graves' still-controversial thesis. Mamma Mia!
is the new movie musical derived from the successful London stage production, a modern classic of "juke-box opera" featuring the music of the Swedish supergroup ABBA. As I watched it, I was struck at how much mythology could be read into it. Single women, powerful women all, enchanting and seducing men, not from a point of needy weakness, but rather from the acceptance of all that life has to offer, with men being a just a part (and not an absolutely crucial one) of it. The casting of the women's roles is wonderful, with Meryl Streep every bit the Goddess. She is in charge of a falling down hotel with a cracking tile piazza which may be situated over Aphrodite's legendary spring. The men are there as comic relief and to propel the plot, they are not given the strongest roles. This is a pop-culture musical about women, not a patriarchal high drama. All the action takes place on a beautiful island in Greece, with just about as much sun, sea and beautiful scenery that one can stand.
The plot, which is actually pretty well developed as such things go, involves Donna's (Streep) daughter Sophie's (Amanda Seyfried) pending wedding and her invitation of three of her mother's old lovers- one of which is the father. This is a film about women's relationships, and as such it gives plenty of opportunity for joys, tears, and reconciliation.
Which leaves the music.
ABBA: Which side are you on? Did their poppy-disco hits drive you to dance, or drive you insane? They never made a big impression on me, and this film's weakest link is, I think, the Abba songs themselves. It is a tribute to everyone involved that such an enjoyable movie could be made from such inconsequential fluff. It is rare that a film musical's weakest link is the music (although I must confess, I never saw Xanadu
.) My only fear is a rash of seventies-rock operetta remakes- The Who's Tommy
being a good warning example of one not to remake.