MIDNIGHT OIL 1984

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Ray Argall.

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1984 was a pivotal year for iconic Australian rock band Midnight Oil. Formed in the early 70s from Sydney’s vibrant north shore, Midnight Oil forged its reputation for energetic live shows in the pub rock scene, with front man Peter Garrett finishing their sets exhausted and bathed in sweat.  The band defiantly forged its own path, refusing to play on tv shows like Countdown or following the usual music business norms of drugs and hard partying. The band was also known for its support of environmental and social concerns.

But 1984 became a significant year in the band’s history. Their fourth album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 had spent the past two years on the music charts and yielded hit singles like Power And The Passion. Their next album though was Red Sails In The Sunset, and it struck a chord as it addressed the growing fears about nuclear proliferation around the world and the band’s music was much more overtly political in nature. The band had recorded the album in Tokyo, and they happened to meet some survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Garrett himself became more heavily involved in politics, joining the newly formed Nuclear Disarmament Party and running for the Senate on its platform. Given his campaigning during the day and his performing at night, band members wondered whether it would last. The band members had never seriously considered what would happen if Garrett won his seat in the Senate. Interestingly, the two major political parties schemed to try and thwart the ambitions of the popular party, and Garrett’s first bid for the Senate was ultimately a failure.

This fascinating and well-crafted documentary looks at this memorable year. The director is Ray Argall, who had shot music videos for Split Enz, Crowded House, the Hoodoo Gurus, etc, and he also shot some music videos for the Oils between 1982-86. In 1984 he spent three months with the band, following them on tour and charting Garrett’s political aspirations. He shot over 30,000 feet of footage, which sat in his garage for the next thirty years. Argall was finally able to use the latest digital technology to do justice to the Oils’ sound. He finally edited the 16 hours of footage down to the 90 minutes we see on the screen. The film captures the passion and the power of the Oils at their best on stage in their heyday.

There is plenty of music for the fans and lots of footage shot during their massive Red Sails concert tour. The live concert footage has been interspersed with interviews with the band members past and present, and plenty of never before seen archival footage that gives us a snapshot of Australian politics and social landscape of the time. ASIO had the band under surveillance because of their political stance and the police would often search the backstage area before gigs, citing security reasons. A strong sense of nostalgia permeates the material.

A great music documentary and social record, Midnight Oil 1984 is a must for fans of this iconic Australian band.

★★★★

 

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