A delve into the relatively short life of charismatic INXS frontman Michael Hutchence somehow feels long overdue. Perhaps because he was foremost a fascinating figure in rock, whose mystique and allure was sadly upended with the constant press intrusions when he became prime tabloid fodder before his untimely demise, almost 22 years ago.
Thankfully for fans – or even those with a passing interest in the performer – Mystify: Michael Hutchence is a reverential and illuminating examination of a near-icon which refrains from being yet another cautionary look at the perils of hubris and overindulgence. Nor does it revel in the more salacious aspects of Hutchence’s life – particularly his ill-fated love affair with the late Paula Yates – instead offering up a portrayal of a sensitive artist as fallible as the next man.
Australian director Richard Lowenstein has a uniquely personal entry into the singer’s world – he directed Hutchence in Dogs in Space, his first and only starring film role – and has subsequently been able to amass a huge wealth of archival film and personal material, some of which was shot by Hutchence himself. Like Asif Kapadia’s similarly probing collage-like approach to the life of Amy Winehouse, Lowenstein’s film is stitched together exclusively with this footage, using a vast array of voiceovers to build an impression of his subject matter.
They’re comprised of his INXS band members, friends, family and old lovers, all of whom paint a picture of a performer who exuded raw magnetism. The myriad of exhilarating concert footage which sees Hutchence glide around on stage with a command and ease possessed by those touched with star quality, speaks for itself. The candidness of those contributing speaks volumes as to how well-loved Hutchence was and remains – Kylie Minogue’s intimate home video snippets and a heartfelt testament to their time together is particularly touching.
Lowenstein takes an almost forensic approach to his friend’s life. No stone is left unturned, bringing to the fore events which felt glided over back when he was still alive. For instance, a violent assault on the star whilst he was dating Helena Christensen resulted in a complete loss of the sense of smell and significant loss of taste – a cataclysmic incident which signalled the start of the singer’s downward spiral. An award show clip of an obnoxious Noel Gallagher’s unforgivable put-down of Hutchence right in front of his face – and at a time when INXS was struggling to stay relevant – is particularly upsetting to witness in hindsight, and was undoubtedly a contributor to Hutchence’s furthering depression.
In what is unavoidable in any portrait of the doomed artist, Lowenstein’s film is bereft of a happy ending, and the creeping feeling of tragedy looms large, particularly as the film slowly draws to a close. Yet the director refuses to dwell on the maudlin and instead strives to go out with a jubilant, celebratory tone as the credits roll, remembering a figure who brought light to many, despite the inherent darkness which hounded him out of the public eye. Mystify: Michael Hutchence is an impeccably assembled, comprehensive tribute to a rock legend and is entirely worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned Winehouse doc.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76