Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Midnight Oil 1984: Film Review

Midnight Oil 1984: Film Review

Director: Ray Argall

A mix of social commentary and searing concert footage, Midnight Oil 1984 captures a moment in the history of the band, and a moment in the history of the world of our Trans-Tasman cuzzies.

Midnight Oil 1984: Film Review
Lain dormant for some 30 years, the unearthed footage that makes up Argall's documentary is fascinating for those with a passing late interest in the band, and a vital one to those who were inspired by them.
It helps greatly that 1984 was a political touch paper moment for Australia, with global concerns we'd all die in a nuclear furnace enveloping all of us. Thank goodness, that will never concern us again, eh?

But Midnight Oil 1984 is an odd mix, and in some ways, it very much feels like the Peter Garrett show, as the enigmatic frontman's tilt at a Senate position and his involvement with the Nuclear Disarmament Party consumes much of the film.

Once the revelation of how that bid went is revealed, the film races towards a conclusion, feeling a tad rushed and almost dismissive of what the band did next. (Their mega-hit Beds Are Burning only appears on the credits of the film.)
Midnight Oil 1984: Film Review

It's interesting that Argall's assembled the band in separate talking heads formats, primarily appearing to be shot in either bedrooms or back yards as they reflect on how the swell of political awakening both galvanised their music but also led to fears of how the band would cope with their frontman's potential change of career, how it would affect their music etc.

It's a shame this isn't investigated further as the potential split is only hinted at, and briefly explored by conversations with guitarist Jim Moginie and drummer Rob Hirst. A deeper probing may have helped, but it's probably not what the documentary wanted to be, preferring isntead for viewers to take their own opinions on what's happened and why.

Midnight Oil 1984 firmly showcases Peter Garrett, putting him front and centre of its spotlight, whether it's footage of him meeting school kids and talking to them or dealing with press in a park at a photocall; it's clear he's got the charisma the band needed and collectively the drive they all shared.
It makes for interesting viewing - and particularly when the band discuss Garrett's infamous dancing, there's a genuine warmth and humour that envelops them all. (In truth, the film could do with a few more looser moments.)

Midnight Oil 1984: Film Review

Elsewhere the film concentrates on using footage from the band's searing performances - and it's here the cinema soundsystem will work best, channeling their electricity and crackling live gigs into something exceptional.

It's stirring, searing stuff, but it's also at odds with what Midnight Oil 1984 is trying to do.

At times, the documentary feels like it's torn between social document, political history and musical catalogue - it's not always successful, but what it does do is lay out the reasons why Midnight Oil was such a flashpoint in 1984 and makes a case for why they've endured in the years after.

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