Director Ray Argall’s documentary Midnight Oil 1984 is as much an examination of the social and political climate of 1984 as it is about the rise of arguably, Australia’s most important rock band.
In 1984, Midnight Oil embarked on a national tour supporting the release of their album Red Sails in the Sunset.
At the same time, Australia was exporting uranium to the world, while mega powers Russia and the USA among others, were flexing their nuclear muscle.
While on the Red Sails in the Sunset tour filmmaker Argall, who had previously produced film clips for the singles Power and the Passion and Read About it, amassed 28,000 feet worth of 16mm colour footage.
The footage sat dormant until eight years ago when work on this project began.
This brilliant documentary, Midnight Oil 1984 deftly pieces together the raw tour footage, with archival news clips focusing on lead singer Peter Garrett’s entry into politics for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, and the resulting effect on the band in the build-up to the 1984 federal election.
Recent interviews with band members and staff from the 1984 tour knit together the footage to describe that incredible year and examine the social temper of the time.
Reflections from stage manager Michael Lippold during the interviews are particularly heartfelt, his humour and honesty a huge highlight.
The year 1984 is presented as a moment in history when world leaders spoke calmly but threatened catastrophe, while Midnight Oil performed frantically but called for sense and reason.
The parallel story lines of a federal election campaign entwined with the national tour of a number one album is a scenario not likely to be seen again.
The band, and Garrett in particular, are shown as catalysts for the changing public sentiment regarding Australia’s role sourcing uranium and the rising public anxiety about the threat of nuclear devastation.
Of course with 28,000 feet of footage to choose from, the film provides outstanding access to never before seen performance footage and anecdotes from the tour.
The camera is at times embedded into the live performances. Rather than positioned front and square for hero shots of the iconic frontman, we feel the claustrophobic, sweat dripping reality of venues packed well beyond capacity, (thanks to tickets at half the usual price; the result of the band being its own promoter).
Unlike many rock industry documentaries which focus on band members telling the world how wild things used to be with sex drugs and rock and roll, in Midnight Oil 1984, we see a band committed to their music, each performance and a greater good.
Rather than being wild off stage, Midnight Oil saved their frenzy for the crowd.
Drummer Rob Hirst requires his kit to be nailed to the floor such was the energy the band created, while backstage they were served tea in white cups with saucers.
The footage and audio from the 1984 tour make the film enjoyable purely for the musical spectacle and passion of live performance, but of course like the band itself, this documentary is about so much more.
*The film is in selected cinemas from May 10
RELATED OILS’ STORIES