MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Richard Lowenstein.

Fans of INXS will certainly want to check out this superbly researched and cohesive documentary about the band’s flamboyant, charismatic, complex and troubled frontman Michael Hutchence, who died in November 1997 aged just 37. This intimate and revealing documentary has been compiled by Richard Lowenstein, one of this country’s best directors of music videos, who shot many videos for the band during their heyday as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Lowenstein also directed Hutchence in his straight dramatic acting role in the 1986 film Dogs In Space, which wasset against the backdrop of the Melbourne music scene. Lowenstein previously made Autoluminescent: Rowland S Howard, another intimate documentary about a charismatic but troubled musician who also died too young.

Mystify was something of a labour of love for Lowenstein, who spent the better part of a decade working on the project. Working with his regular editor Lynn-Maree Milburn, Lowenstein has been able to assemble a wealth of archival footage, rarely seen home video footage, much of it shot by Hutchence himself, mixed with lots of concert footage of Hutchence in action. There are also candid interviews with family, friends, band mates and former girlfriends, who provide rich insights into the singer’s enigmatic personality away from the limelight, and reflect on his personal demons and insecurities.

But there are no talking head interviews here. Instead, Lowenstein imposes the subjects’ audio commentary over a deftly edited montage of archival footage to add context. He had something of a troubled childhood, and it seems that sadness was never far from the surface even when he achieved success and fame.

There are interviews with former girlfriends like writer Amanda Braxton-Smith, Michele Bennett and even Kylie Minogue, who opens up about her relationship with Hutchence with real affection. Kylie had a wholesome, virginal image while Michael was the embodiment of the charismatic, sexy rock star with plenty of swagger, but they formed a special relationship for a couple of years. Minogue admits that Michael opened her up to a wealth of rich new experiences and broadened her world view, but their different touring schedules did prove to be problematic.

And model Helena Christensen talks about her time with Michael. She mentions an incident that happened in Copenhagen in 1992 that changed Michael’s personality. He was assaulted by an irate taxi driver, an attack that left his with brain damage, which Michael kept secret even from his closest friends. But the assault changed his personality, and he often became dark and angry. The incident also affected his relationship with his band mates.

The final part of the documentary follows the more turbulent final years and the psychological toll it took on the singer. There was his controversial relationship with television presenter Paula Yates, then the wife of Bob Geldof, of The Boomtown Rats fame. Her messy divorce from Geldof and the bitter custody battle that followed provided fodder for the tabloids and led to Hutchence feeling depressed and vulnerable. When he returned to Australia in November 1997 he was deeply troubled by what was happening. Lowenstein’s treatment of these last days of Hutchence’s short life is compassionate and sympathetic as he tries to explain his tragic death at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which was officially judged as a suicide.

Lowenstein was a personal friend of Hutchence and Mystify goes some way towards restoring the singer’s slightly tarnished reputation and cements his importance as one of rock music’s most charismatic frontmen. It is a fitting and moving tribute to Hutchence, and gives us a fuller understanding of the private man. However, INXS fans may be a bit disappointed that the band’s music is used sparingly, and we only get snippets of some of their biggest hits.

★★★☆

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