Writer, Director: Ray Argall
Producers: Rachel Argall, Ray Argall
Starring : Peter Garrett, Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie, Andrew James, Martin Rotsey, and Peter Gifford.
In 1984 as Australia faced the turmoil and uncertainty of political conflicts, systemic poverty, mega powers flexing their nuclear muscle, and the home-grown unwashable stain of a nation’s refusal to acknowledge the legacy of racism towards its indigenous culture – Midnight Oil embarked on a national tour of their album Red Sails in the Sunset and unified a nationwide voice of protest with their music.
Ray Argall’s documentary, Midnight Oil 1984 gives candid unseen angles and film footage of Midnight Oil at the height of galvanising social change through their music that hit the top of Australian and International music charts. Argall’s lens muscles into the action of sardine packed audiences – the audiences packed because of entrepreneurial self-promotion – in sweaty pub venues with no air conditioning and walls and ceilings dripping with honey thick sweat.
Argyll’s lens dips into the wide mouthed stares of audiences, witnessing social change at the windmill circling arms of a 6’4 gyrating maniac lead singer, as he unifies them together in songs of protest.
I too stood like a stunned possum in headlights the first time I saw Peter Garrett live in the 80’s with Midnight Oil, at New Zealand’s, Sweetwater’s Music Festival – where they played alongside UB40, Psychedelic Furs, Toots and the Maytals and others – I too gaped, at what I thought was a gyrating maniac.
He looked like someone had rented his body for the weekend, an alien perhaps or a rogue angel on a vacay down under in New Zealand, an alien or angel, who in their haste to jump in the body, had lost the manual and now had no clue how to steer the 6’4 convulsing kinetic frame that was Midnight Oil’s charismatic and out-of-this-world, lead singer, Peter Garrett.
Director Ray Argall’s, Midnight Oil 1984, delivers up a powerful moving snapshot, of a time when one of Australia’s greatest rock bands, collided with Australian politics and delivered the voice of the common people to a world stage.
Intimate backstage scenes permissible through Argyll’s lens reveal a very unrock and roll off stage lifestyle – hot tea beverages are sipped between sets, yogic stretching by Garrett on the floor of a minimalist and functional dressing room – not a band rider in site; kilometer-upon-kilometer-long jogging tracks for Drummer Rob Hirst, as he gets body ready for his marathon on stage drumming performances. His drum kit nailed to the floor at every performance.
The band’s reputation was built on intense live performances, where they leapt on to stage and tore the places apart with their energy and the political rage of their lyrics.
Newspaper archives and recent band member interviews offer welcome backstory and give insights to the meteoric and controversial ascension of Peter Garrett into the political arena.
The legacy of Midnight Oil with their fight songs, social conscience and their unique stage presence chiseled the landscape of Australian rock history and changed a nation with what they bought to the stage.
Enigmatic and indefinable, for me Garrett vibrates with the stage presence of a rogue angel, and once seen he changes you for having looked and stared. Fellow band member, Drummer Rob Hirst, and Garrett’s friend of 45-years agrees, that whatever it is that Garrett does on stage, it cannot be called dancing, but whatever it is, it works.
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