MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE. Michael Hutchence, Andrew Farriss, Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen. Directed by Richard Lowenstein. 102 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
If you believe everything that you’re told in ‘Mystify’, then Michael Hutchence, the lead singer and co-writer of legendary Aussie rock act INXS, was a once in a generation gift to humankind. A cradle to grave doco, this tells Hutchence’s story through spoken interviews playing over a wealth of archival footage. While his story is somewhat interesting (presumably more so for Hutchence and INXS completionists), there’s not much to learned here that couldn’t be gleaned from reading the internet, nor is it particularly objective. Instead, its greatest strength is the great visuals that it assembles together from a range of sources, which capture the doco’s subject, his band and the era of their stardom with intimate detail. That said, ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ is probably one best left for the presumably impressive number fans of its subject.
A host of voices take viewers through Michael’s upbringing and his introduction to the musical world, where his hard work and talent combined to quickly elevate his band, INXS, to the top of the Australian music scene and global stardom. Occasionally, particular events with their own mythic power in Michael’s story hijack the otherwise shaggy narrative, like his romance with Kylie Minogue, or his assault by a taxi driver in Copenhagen that caused significant brain damage and the personality shift that saw Hutchence start on the downward spiral that only ended with his suicide in 1997.
The names assembled to discuss the doco’s subject is impressive, including family members, band mates, ex-partners, managers, producers and more, not to mention Hutchence himself. They offer firsthand insights into the various aspects of his life and career that the film explores, though I would suggest that, having done my share of googling after watching the film, there is little insight here that target audiences (read: Hutchence and INXS fans) wouldn’t have already been able to find out elsewhere already. Some of its insights came as interesting news to me personally, like the connection drawn between Hutchence’s relationship with his mother and his desire for fame, though they would be old hat to anyone interested enough to read any one of the several books about the famous front man (including one apiece written by his brother Rhett and sister Tina).
Where the doco generates value is in its precious, dreamy visuals. Like the 2017 documentary ‘I Am Heath Ledger’, ‘Mystify’ benefits from the large amount of footage filmed by its subject over his life. Watching the same footage that Hutchence himself would have seen creates a genuine sense of connection with him, one that no amount of interview audio can replicate. In short, the access that the doco has to this footage, not to mention the terrific recordings taken of a number of the band’s shows to crowds both large and small, is the what ultimately makes it a cut above the TV miniseries, ‘Never Tear Us Apart’.
Only receiving a limited release in Australian cinemas, ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ knows its limited audience and gives them exactly what they want. This is a loving tribute to the INXS front man that emphasises his artistic and performative genius, allowing fans to remember him as the rock god that became in our shared cultural memory. What it lacks in subtlety or insight, it makes up for in pure homage, boosted by its fairly thorough access to contemporaneous footage and an array of important people in Hutchence’s life.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 4.