Director: Ray Argall
Synopsis: In 1984 Midnight Oil launched the tour for their new album "Red Sails in the Sunset". At the same time a new political party, the Nuclear Disarmament Party, approached Midnight Oil's lead singer Peter Garrett to head their run for a Senate seat in NSW.
Midnight Oil had been building a strong following since 1977, their live performances were legendary. Their popularity was giving a voice to the feelings of a young generation concerned about nuclear power, indigenous affairs, environmentalism and US dominance of Australian culture.
It is these early, sometimes awkward, formative years that are at the centre of the film.
The stakes are high and with the full support of the band Peter Garrett accepts the offer of the NDP, thus launching himself and his fellow band mates into a strenuous and demanding alliance between rock music and politics.
The NDP campaign resonated powerfully with young people concerned about nuclear weapons and war, and a demographic previously alienated from politics was suddenly re-energised and ready to vote Peter Garrett into the Senate.
Working from makeshift offices with few resources and aided by NDP Campaign Manager Mark Dodshon, Peter Garrett darts around from schools to rallies, talking to the media and spreading the message of the campaign. As the NDP starts to poll strongly politicians from all sides go on the attack.
Meanwhile the pressure of performing on both the live stage and the political stage takes its toll on the musicians. With their lead singer campaigning throughout the day and performing at night it becomes an anxious and conflicted time for the band. The added adrenaline and excitement surrounding Peter's Senate campaign draws a lot of media attention and their profile goes from the back pages of the entertainment section to the front pages of the News as the election draws closer.
Using never before seen footage of the band as they toured Australia Midnight Oil 1984 tells a story that is infused with the raw kinetic power of their music. With the thumping beat and dynamic complexity of all their smash hits, the film tells how a group of awesomely talented musicians with a powerful and ambitious message were able to inspire a generation to try and change the world.
Midnight Oil 1984
Release Date: May 10th, 2018
Background To The Production
In 1984 Midnight Oil members Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey were at the height of their musical creativity, and lead singer Peter Garrett was taking the first steps in his political career. Collectively they built one of Australia's most successful and popular musical forces, writing and performing songs that reflected Australia's cultural identity, and which politically galvanized a generation of Australian youth.
Midnight Oil did not perform together between 2002 – 2017. In 2016 they announced their world tour The Great Circle. With the current global political climate issues around nuclear weapons once more on the front page it is apt that the title of the tour reflects the way these issues, that were the cornerstone of their early political message, have come to the forefront of public awareness again.
This is a story that is uniquely told by director Ray Argall, who worked with the band between 1982 and 1986 - doing their music videos/concert films (Capitol Theatre) and Pop Movie which featured Peter Garrett and other Australian musicians. Ray developed a filmmaker's interest in what lay beneath the surface of pop stardom.
Ray toured with Midnight Oil on their Australian tour for the album "Red Sails in the Sunset", filming not only their live performances but behind the scenes footage of the band backstage, and Peter Garrett as he embarked on the campaign trail for the newly formed Nuclear Disarmament Party. This never before seen footage provides a window into a band in a state of change. They struggle to balance the competing elements of their political message, the raw, visceral power of their live performances, a lead singer torn between the connection to his audience as a rock star, and a desire to push their message from the rock stage to the political stage.
"Midnight Oil 1984" positions it's audience as a fly on the wall in the journey of a band on the brink of international stardom, in the formative years before they became a global phenomenon. This film doesn't seek to provide it's audience with a political agenda, rather it paints a portrait of a group of young artists and musicians with a strong, deep, beating desire to evoke change with their music, and the inevitable conflict they feel when faced with what seems like a choice between music and politics.
This film is an inspiring testament to the power of music to engage and unite audiences.
At its core this film is about the power of music to reach out and touch people, and bring them together in a shared communal experience. With the camera I captured these musicians working closely together to create something that is unique and powerful on stage, and that communicates to an audience in an ethereal way. These musicians are consummate performers, and at their most successful have married their musical gifts with the underlying themes of their songs, creating anthems that inspire and energise their audience. Within that is a reflection of Australian culture, both direct and indirect.
I have grown up with music (my parents are both classical musicians) and in my filmmaking music has always played a very important part of the storytelling. With this film I have allowed the music to dictate the pace of the drama unfolding. Music acts like a character in the film, and the editing allows it to breath at its own pace, using the emotional beats and rhythms of the music to underscore the characters' story as it evolves. Much of the storytelling comes through the music, in a lyrical way and through it's ethereal connection to the heart and soul. It is the driving force behind what motivates and inspires the musicians.
This highlights another important character in the film - the landscape. From the urban settings of the suburbs and cities where the musicians perform and their audiences amass, to the desert where Midnight Oil eventually mark out new directions and shine the spotlight on the indigenous communities of Australia, the landscape and the music are meshed together to create an aural/visual experience.
Stylistically I wanted to take a different approach to the coverage of the music. While filming on tour with Midnight Oil 1984 rather than choose a night or two to film a concert with a multi camera setup, I'd film solo with one camera, focusing on a different person or aspect of the performance each night. I filmed them over several months and 14 performances, which gave me a more intimate portrait of the musicians and how they worked together. Many years later when I started editing this footage this approach gave me an incredible diversity of material, including coverage of the audience that formed such a vital part of their live performance. The end result is multilayered experience where you can see the musicians bringing their individual skills to the music, and how the audience interacts with them note for note, word for word.
So much coverage of music focuses almost exclusively on the lead singer, with a few obligatory cutaways to drum or guitar, and in particular rock music is edited at a ferocious pace, which doesn't always work with the core of the music. In this film I wanted to allow the subjects to evolve in front of the camera and tell their stories with their own voices, so there is no third person voice over or narration attempting to analyse what is happening on screen. I have built on all my experience making drama films to dig deeper, not just with words but with the music itself, and the film is a reference to the cinematic language that evolved during the music video boom in the 80s. It will resonate with viewers that are familiar with that time in their lives, but more importantly fill in the dots for younger audiences who have grown up with the echoes and sounds of an era.