Film Review: Mystify: Michael Hutchence

Richard Lowenstein’s beautifully sad documentary study of the all-too-short life of his late friend Michael Hutchence is a most moving memorial, and rather more about the man than the music.

Lowenstein knew Michael well, helmed most of INXS’ videos and also cast Michael in the lead of his Dogs In Space, so he’s definitely the best guy for this melancholy job, and he creates something that isn’t just a celebration of the band’s classic hits but a reminder that those glorious 80s are getting further and further away.

With access to a wealth of private and at times very personal video footage and images, this is presented (like recent docos about the Rolling Stones and other outfits) without any contemporary footage at all, meaning that Michael’s now-older bandmates, friends, colleagues, family members and exes speak but remain offscreen, and we only see their youthful selves.

Trying to get a handle on the often-uprooted childhood of Hutchence, we then get a black and white glimpse or two of him in pre-INXS line-ups before we’re transported to the band proper’s first heady taste of fame. Keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss and bassist Garry Gary Beers all offer fond memories (although saxophonist Kirk Pengilly wasn’t available for some reason), and there are striking contributions from Michael’s sister Tina and brother Rhett (who sounds particularly regretful). Even Bono offers a quick but lovely bit where he says that Michael improved greatly as a singer over the years but seemed never to truly understand or appreciate it.

Hutchence’s onetime great love Kylie Minogue talks longer than anyone else, and we see some long-hidden footage of her and him where she’s very young and evidently completely over-the-moon about the guy. There’s sadness here, of course, but wisdom and gratitude too, as well as a fairly intimate moment where he cheekily creeps up on her in a railway carriage bathroom.

Proper darkness intrudes as his later girlfriend Helena Christensen goes into detail about his assault in Copenhagen that, it was long-suggested, led to brain damage and a drastic alteration in his personality. And Lowenstein shows that he did change almost scarily, and as we get into his relationship with Paula Yates, his pursuit by her ex Bob Geldof and the relentless attention of the media, it’s hard not to feel a sense of terrible dread as you know that the inevitable is fast approaching.

Lacking complete versions of popular tunes (for legal and copyright reasons, perhaps), including the titular track from the 1987 album Kick, this more than compensates by getting as close as possible to its long-lost subject, even if, in the end, he’s still more than a little mystifying.

Mystify (M) is in cinemas now

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