MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE, Australia, 2018. Directed by Richard Lowenstein. 104 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
For fans of Michael Hutchence and INXS, this exploratory documentary is a must. For those not familiar with the singer and performer, it will provide an interesting, sometimes disturbing, portrait of an artist, insecure in himself, talented in his singing and composition, a life ended prematurely.
Documentary and feature director, Richard Lowenstein (He Died with a Falafel in his Hand, Say a Little Prayer, In Bob We Trust) had worked with Michael Hutchence in his 1986 feature film about a commune of musicians, Dogs in Space. Which means that he had followed Hutchence in the 1980s and into the 1990s, until Hutchence’s death in 1997.
For those who like INXS, it is an opportunity to relive the story of the band, the different personalities, their different contributions to the music, to performance. There are their ups and downs in career, the ups and downs in friendship and relationships. And there are sequences of performance in many venues around the world. This documentary culminates in a performance of their hit, Mystify.
The film provides a substantial overview of Hutchence’s life and career, his relationship with his parents, their separation, his growing bond with his father, strong bond with his sister and ups and downs with his brother. There are the photos of his growing up, interviews with family and friends about his personality, shyness and diffidence, a growing transformation with his involvement with his band.
And, interestingly, the women with whom he had relationships are also interviewed to quite some extent. The outsider, he seems to begin an intense relationship and, then, suddenly move out of it, no real explanations offered, moving along to the next partner. In fact, this happens four times, including a relationship with Kylie Minogue (and quite an amount of film footage to illustrate it) as well as with model Helena Christensen (again film footage available).
There is also quite a lot of footage of Hutchence himself and quite an amount of footage attributed to him and his camera work. It illustrates the background of his life, time living in France, the international tours and success.
However, older audiences may remember his involvement in scandals in the 1990s, his relationship with Paula Yates, her work as an interviewer, then the personal bonding, her leaving her husband, Bob Geldof, her children, and the successive court cases about divorce and custody. There are no comments from Bob Geldof himself in this film.
Hutchence seems to have been preoccupied with the case, his relationship with Paula Yates, the birth of their daughter.
However, for outsiders at least, there is a revelation that Hutchence was involved in a fight with a taxi driver in Paris who punched him, Hutchence falling to the footpath, hitting his head with subsequent brain damage. This is explained in some detail, the loss of his olfactory sense and the consequences, the disconnect in areas of his brain, subsequent moodiness, bouts of depression. At the time of his death, he was beginning a tour of Australia in Sydney, in constant contact with what was going on in the British courts, and, suddenly, his being found hanged in his hotel room.
Whether an audience knows a great deal about Hutchence or does not know who is at all, they will respond to a very well constructed documentary, drawing on a great deal of visual sources, enabling the audience to associate Hutchence as a composer and artist, with growing sympathy for him as a disturbed human being.
Madman Released July 4th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.