Film review: MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

I’ve never been a big INXS fan, I thought apart from ‘Don’t change’ and the rawer sounding early work, too much of their music was bland white funk. Still, that doesn’t mean that a documentary about INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence won’t be fascinating, even to a non-fan.

Written and directed by Richard Lowenstein, the documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence pulls together a remarkable amount of home movie footage – much of it shot by Michael – as well as archival news and TV show film and interviews with those who knew him, including former partners Michelle Bennett, Helena Christensen and Kylie Minogue and friend Bono. Lowenstein has fashioned a structurally familiar rock doc as it traces Michael’s early life and rock star ascendency, various relationships and the quite grim last few years amid the Paula Yates controversy. Still, as happened in INXS, Michael Hutchence unique and mysterious personal qualities add something that go beyond the setting.

Michael comes across as an introspective and very likeable if slightly pretentious guy with an insatiable appetite mostly for art and literature but also for human company. Amusingly, Chris Bailey, in typically acerbic fashion, talks about how he and Michael would pontificate for hours about art and literature.

Having only heard the media’s often salacious take on Michael’s life, it was refreshing to hear informed insights from those who knew him. Kylie Minogue provides some wonderfully warm but candid descriptions of their whirlwind romance in the early 90’s while the images of Michael cavorting around the south of France with Helena Christiansen seem idyllic.

The film also provides some confronting revelations about his life. When he was 14 his mother apparently made the odd decision to take him to the US while leaving his brother Rhett in Australia with a series of very questionable carers, something that seemed to have a profoundly damaging effect on Rhett and Michael. Also, tragically, in 1992 Michael was assaulted in Copenhagen and suffered brain damage that deprived him of his sense of smell and taste. His partner of the time Helena Christiansen and his band mates recall his personality changing dramatically from that point as he went from exceptionally chilled to frequently aggressive.

The film also reveals INXS’ struggle to remain relevant in the grunge/ brit pop era, something that became fodder for Noel Gallagher during in an infamous Brit Awards acceptance speech.

Inevitably, in trying to capture someone’s life there will be omissions. In addition to glaring ones such as no reference to Michael’s appearance in the film Dogs In Space, some areas of his life, such a his relationship with the other band members, are skimmed over – admittedly this may have been due to some reluctance to talk about their former band mate. There’s also little sense of the broader Australian music scene of which INXS were a part.

A few omissions aside Mystify: Michael Hutchence is a fascinating insight into a remarkably charismatic and complex figure.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Documentary/biopic.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Richard Lowenstein.

Release date: 4th July 2019.

Running time: 102 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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