Midnight Oil 1984: Rocking the vote

by Russell Baillie / 09 August, 2018

An energetic documentary traces a pivotal and political year in the Australian band’s life. 

By 1984, Oz-rock head prefects Midnight Oil had left quite a mark on New Zealand with regular pub-wrecking tours and the headline slot at Sweetwaters 1983. Their 1982 album 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 had given them their first hit singles on both sides of the Tasman. Its 1984 follow-up Red Sails in the Sunset was an overproduced musical plateau, but its cover of a post-nuclear apocalypse Sydney dovetailed with frontman Peter Garrett standing for the Australian Senate in that year’s election on a Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket.

Midnight Oil 1984 attempts to capture the band’s pivotal and political year, armed with hitherto-unused film that director Ray Argall shot on tour. There’s plenty of exciting live footage, with Garrett dancing like Basil Fawlty attempting to direct an airliner to its gate, along with reminders of what a forceful live entity the Oils were before the 1987 international breakthrough of the Diesel and Dust album.

But the time-capsule approach, which also includes footage of Garrett’s strident early outings as a political campaigner and contemporary interviews, makes this feel a bit half-pie – it’s neither a great concert film nor a particularly revealing rockumentary.

Still, fans who packed arenas during Midnight Oil’s reunion tour of New Zealand last year will find plenty of nostalgic wattage in how the film captures the nervy energy of the Power and the Passion period.

Video: Madman Films

IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM AUGUST 9

★★★

This article was first published in the August 11, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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