Clifton was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He began his career by filming clips for Top of the Pops, and working with record label Immediate Records. Setting up his own film company called Star Films in Kensington, his first experience in film production was a 30 minute documentary short on the Easybeats tour of the United Kingdom in 1967 called Somewhere Between Heaven and Woolworths, with Australian film maker Lee Pearce. Clifton also directed the famous film clip of the Rolling Stones' performance of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', as well as clips for the Beach Boys, Jim Morrison, and Eric Clapton. Between 1967 and 1969, Clifton began assembling his first feature film, an experiment in colour, music and effects with performances by the Rolling Stones, Vanilla Fudge, the Bee Gees, Joe Cocker, Traffic, the Animals, and Twiggy, entitled Popcorn (1969). The film established Clifton as one of the leading live music film directors of the period. Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, and guitarist Jimmy Page met Clifton in 1970, in a bid for his services to edit Stanley Dorfman's footage of the band at the Royal Albert Hall, however the project was cancelled due to the below average quality of the print. In 1971 he directed Superstars in Film Concert, shot in 16mm monochrome featuring John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and Ike and Tina Turner. Released in 1973, Clifton oversaw the filming of The London Rock and Roll Show held at Wembley Stadium on 5 August 1972.
While about to commence filming a reggae concert in Jamaica in March 1974, Clifton was once again contacted by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, to complete The Song Remains the Same project, initially directed by Joe Massot. Clifton was told what Massot was doing then compiled his own 30 page script, surveyed the existing footage and recommended that the band reshoot a number of close-up concert scenes. As rehiring Madison Square Gardens was out of the question, the band settled on replicating the stage at Shepperton Studios for filming in August 1974. He also reshot Page's previous mountain climbing scene in Scotland. Problems however began when attempting to synch the soundtrack with the footage, and developing a coherent sequence of the live performance. The project dragged on for months and the director had a falling out with the band after accusations that he had been living at their expense while in Los Angeles, and improperly using a limousine. Upon completion of post-production, Grant suspecting that Clifton had not given him the entire footage, sent Richard Cole to his home with a court order, but only reels of home movie footage of the band was found. Clifton attended the film's premiere on 20 October 1976, and had no further contact with the band thereafter.
In 1979 Clifton directed the concert film Live In Central Park, featuring the final performance of America's world tour. A long documentary in the making, Sound of the City: London 1964-73 was finally released in 1981, featuring performances compiled from his previous music films. Clifton returned to Australia in 1983, and began his next project producing and directing a music documentary of up-and-coming Australian acts. Australia Now!, released in 1984, featured Midnight Oil, INXS, Men at Work, and Split Enz. He spent the late 1980s launching the first ever Hard Rock Cafe, which finally opened in Sydney on 1 April 1989.
In 2003, Clifton produced and wrote the story of Frank Sinatra's troubled tour of Australia in 1974, entitled The Night We Called It a Day. After seeing a documentary on the lost Apollo 11 moon landing footage in 2006, Clifton was able to locate a missing reel of 16-millimetre footage, which he had kept since 1979 as part of a proposed film he was making on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. In 2008, Clifton also co-produced The Bloody Ashes, a film which focuses on the 1932-33 Ashes 'Bodyline' series. He is currently working on adapting author Peter FitzSimons' book Tobruk into a feature film.
Clifton's documentary on the Easybeats, Easy Come Easy Go: A Salute to Sixties Aussie Pop, was released in 2012.
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- Carmel, Egan. Rare film find may help NASA uncover the reel thing, ABC Science, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 20 August 2006. Retrieved on 9 October 2013.
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