Almost five years in the making, the film Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story charts the music mogul’s rise from being a kid in suburban Melbourne to forming his own record label, Mushroom Records, at the age of 20.
Michael Gudinski famously signed the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Hunters & Collectors, and organised tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra, becoming one of the most respected and influential figures in the music industry.
Director Paul Goldman says he still feels very “raw” after completing the feature-length documentary on his mentor and friend. “It’s very strange. There are people working on this film who are still grieving and dealing with the loss of Michael,” Goldman says.
Like several Gudinski discoveries featured in the film, including Kylie Minogue and Paul Kelly, Goldman had an association with Gudinski stretching back decades. Gudinski spotted Goldman’s video for a single (Shivers) for Nick Cave’s first band the Boys Next Door in 1978. Gudinski pursued Goldman to re-do it for TV, helping start his career. “I met Michael when I was still a film student,” Goldman recalls. It was from this fruitful meeting that a longstanding, sometimes rocky friendship was formed, one which faced plenty of ups, downs, and even lawsuits. Yet, despite several disagreements, the two remained close.
The project began when Gudinski suggested Goldman make a film to mark the 50th anniversary of Mushroom Records. Gudinski had originally intended the film be solely about Mushroom, celebrating its artists. Having to change course and make the film about Gudinski after his untimely passing was extremely difficult for Goldman. “Michael’s passing away was infinitely sad for all of us. It’s strange to have jumped into a documentary so soon,” he reflects.
Yet, Goldman was determined to forge on and make a film which captured his larger-than-life character, audacity and enormous role in Australian music. “I wanted to honour Michael. I don’t think it’s a hagiography, but it’s certainly a love letter to Michael, Melbourne and the Australian music industry,” Goldman says. “I often thought to myself, ‘Would Michael like what we were doing?’ And the answer in my head was ‘No’. And I thought, ‘Well fucking do it, then’.”
Not only a look at Gudinski’s vast impact, the film is also a capsule of Australian music over the last 50 years. One of the biggest challenges for Goldman was that he and his team had access to over 1000 hours of archival footage, which had to be condensed into just under two hours. Stars from Sting to Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift lined up to remember the promoter, recalling spending time together and family dinners at Gudinski’s house. “We could’ve made three feature films. We could’ve made a four-part series, but I really wanted to make a feature doc,” Goldman says.
While many things were left out, such as Gudinski’s involvement in Australian films (he exec-produced Chopper, among others), one aspect the film highlights was Gudinski’s fierce championing of Indigenous artists like Yothu Yindi and Christine Anu.
“Michael understood there’s no such thing as Indigenous music. It’s Indigenous artists. And he was very keen to help them express themselves.”
Goldman says he hopes he has made a fitting tribute to a figure who broke down barriers and shaped the Australian music industry. “What he bequeathed us and the next generation of artists is enormous.”
Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story is in cinemas Thursday August 31.