Director: Rob Argall
Piccolo Films Pty Ltd./Madman
In 1985 Tears For Fears sang that “Everybody” wanted “to rule the world” from their hit of the same name. In 1980s pop – certainly by the mid-80s – musicians were either aiming to be world-beaters or world-savers. The political climate was fraught, the threat of nuclear war, AIDS was a barely understood epidemic – we were naïve and hopeful enough to think that we were one good anthem away from raising full awareness…tis
Midnight Oil formed in the late 1970s and earned a reputation, almost instantly, as fierce and proud. But 1984 is the year that made the band, of course that means it was also the year that nearly broke the band completely. It’s the subject of this doco – as the name tells us. Found footage, buried for some 30 years – we see many great gig appearances from the mighty Oils. They’re a fearsome live act – I finally found that out for myself last year, having waited most of my lifetime for their reunion.
The band’s backstage anxieties are on show for all to see. The energy of Rob Hirst so palpable. Leading from the back, the drummer and songwriter knows every word (well, he wrote most of ‘em) and yet he was never fully named or thought of as the leader. That’s because this band oozed charisma. And frontman Peter Garrett was a towering, engaging presence. His shake-free-from-the-stocks “dancing” was inimitable, but that certainly didn’t stop people from trying.
The year 1984 is when Garrett decides to run as a Senate candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament party in the federal election. We know the rest – Garrett moves full-time to politics when the band calls it a day in the early 2000s. And with blood on his hands he leaves parliament to release a solo album, write a book and reconnect with music, eventually leading to the band’s hugely popular world tour reunion last year.
So knowing that, and then seeing this – the commitment, sweat, hard work, and all of that incredible music, angry and impactful, hopeful and insightful, challenging and disguised – so brilliantly – as accessible big, dumb pub-rock despite being witty and wise protest music, is the real joy of this film.
They were – in the end – or at least in an end, for some people, both world-beaters and world-savers. The fact that they never quite managed either, let alone both, is why their reunion was so special; is why this film is so interesting, so important. There was never another band like them. There never will be. And here we see the true trials and tribulations. But there’s a mucking-in, no fuss attitude around the intensity of the situation. Hit the road. Get it done. Turn up. Do the work. Find the way. Connect the fans. Make it happen. Live it. Earn it. Learn it. Do it.
Director Rob Argall followed the Oils in 1984, shooting some 30,000 feet of film – the end-result, 30+ years after he caught the story, is now both a fascinating snapshot of Australian (and world) politics and of course the music.
And that title – 1984 – shades of Orwell? Sure. Why not? We’re living in something far close to “1984” than was ever predicted. It’s interesting to think about that while you soak up the power and majesty, the grit and grunt of Australia’s greatest rock band nearing their absolute prime.
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