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Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story

Featuring interviews with Kylie Minogue, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Kelly, Ed Sheeran and more, this affectionate documentary pays tribute to the Mushroom Records founder.
By Sarah Ward
August 31, 2023
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By Sarah Ward
August 31, 2023
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Post-viewing soundtrack, sorted: to watch Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story is to take a trip down memory lane with the Australian music industry and hear homegrown standouts from the past five decades along the way. Unsurprisingly, this documentary already has an album to go with it, a stacked release which'd instantly do its eponymous figure proud. His tick of approval wouldn't just stem from the artists surveyed, but because Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story's accompanying tunes comprise a three-disc number like Mushroom Records' first-ever drop, a 1973 Sunbury Festival live LP. To tell the tale of Gudinski, the record executive and promoter who became a household name, is to tell of Skyhooks, Split Enz, Hunters & Collectors, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, Kylie Minogue, Archie Roach, Yothu Yindi, Bliss n Esso, The Temper Trap, Gordi and Vance Joy, too — and to listen to them. Need this on-screen tribute to give you some kind of sign that the Gudinski and Mushroom story spans a heap of genres? Both the film and the album alike include Peter Andre.

Any journey through Michael Gudinski's life and career, from his childhood entrepreneurship selling car parks on his family's vacant lot to his years and years getting Aussie music to the masses — and, on the touring side, bringing massively popular overseas artists to Aussies — needs to also be an ode to the industry that he adored. The man and scene are inseparable. But perhaps Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story plays as such an overt love letter to Australian music because it's an unashamed hagiography of Gudinski. Although the movie doesn't deliver wall-to-wall praise, it comes close. When it begins to hint at any traces of arrogance, moodiness or ruthlessness, it quickly does the doco equivalent of skipping to the next track. Australian Rules and Suburban Mayhem director Paul Goldman, a seasoned hand at music videos as well, has called his feature Ego and there's no doubting his subject had one; however, the takeaway in this highly authorised biography is that anything that doesn't gleam was simply part of his natural mischievousness and eager push for success.

Much shines in Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story anyway, and always would: that list of artists that've graced Mushroom's catalogue is as impressive as it is sizeable. Many get chatting, including a raw Barnes, a glowing Minogue and a reflective Tim Finn. Internationally, Garbage's Shirley Manson beams about Gudinski's fair treatment of women in a realm not known for it. Sting, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl, representing the veteran global megastar contingent, talk up his energy, work ethic and hospitality. When Ed Sheeran chimes in, he shares about a deeply personal bond as much about Gudinski's help making him such a smash Down Under. Weaved between the above airwave and plenty more favourites, Gudinski's wife Sue is understandably tender but also candid, while children Kate (once a singer–songwriter herself) and Matt (now Mushroom Records' CEO) are affecting yet clear-eyed.

The portrait painted: of someone who was so obsessed with music, and with working with musicians, that revolving his whole life around both was always going to happen. Gudinski himself notes that picking up instruments was never his forte, so making deals for and with the folks who play them became his calling. A wealth of behind-the-scenes anecdotes stating the same case come from Michael Chugg, a fellow Aussie music-industry mainstay who has operated both beside and in competition with Gudinski — but Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story's most prominent, enthusiastic and frequently deployed interviewee is Gudinski. While 2023 marks two years since he passed away suddenly, he's a lively presence again and again in this birth-to-death chronicle. The benefits of spending your time with rock and pop stars: even in the 70s, cameras capturing a treasure trove of footage were regularly present.

Like Moonage Daydream and Cobain: Montage of Heck filmmaker Brett Morgen, writer/helmer Goldman knows one of the biggest truths in the documentary field, be it in music or otherwise: there's nothing like someone relaying their own history. With Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story, hence the celebratory vibe, because Gudinski also knew how to promote himself. And, of course, charting how the Australian-born son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants started spruiking teen discos when he was a teen, formed a record label championing Australian music at just 20, took a chance on now-iconic acts that were boundary-pushing in their day and built Mushroom into a local behemoth is inherently rousing. Jam-packed doesn't only describe Mushroom's roster, this movie's soundtrack or Gudinski's existence — it sums up this ride of a film.

Goldman, co-writer/producer Bethany Jones (Molly: The Real Thing), fellow scribe/editor Sara Edwards (Suzi Q) and Mushroom Studios, Gudinski's label's film arm, could've opted for a docuseries and had no trouble filling episode after episode. In keeping to 111 minutes, the end result resembles a greatest-hits package from the Gudinski experience. Accordingly, when Red Symons offers the most blunt and sceptical opinions, it stands out. When Kelly laments the early-90s sale of 49 percent of the company to News Corp, it leaves an imprint as well. Each chapter screams for more attention — as does the decision not to sign Men at Work or Cold Chisel (Barnes was snapped up when he went solo); the reluctance to broaden Mushroom's remit away from rock with then-Neighbours star Minogue; supporting Roach, Yothu Yindi and First Nations music in general; and, on the live gig side, Sound Relief's fundraising concerts for the Black Saturday bushfires and early-pandemic effort Music From the Home Front.

Revelations and insights still drop like beats, with the fact that the Nazis killed Gudinski's older sister during the Second World War an unforgettable early disclosure. Affection remains Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story's catchy refrain, though — and, as set to that aforementioned soundtrack, it is indeed infectious. The comic book-esque graphics are overkill, which Goldman seems to realise partway through, giving them less and less prominence. Appreciating the talent that mightn't be so beloved today without Gudinski's love of music? There's nothing excessive about that. Walking out of the cinema and slipping on headphones ASAP is just inevitable.

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