review no 182, by Imogen G
My husband went camping for the weekend so I watched this 2019 documentary film, although actually he’d have been happy to watch it – INXS were the first band he saw live, back in the late 80s. I’d wanted to see the film since an algorithm on Facebook or elsewhere targeted me with unexpectedly candid home video footage of Kylie Minogue and Michael Hutchence looking beautiful and radiant and open and joyful in the late 1980s, frolicking on a boat in, I think, the South of France.
Hutchence, the singer with INXS, and a famously magnetic performer, was one of the last rock stars in the traditional mould inspired by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and the only truly global Australian rock star that I can think of.
His mannerisms and facial expressions came straight out of the Jagger playbook, while the way he planted kisses on his band members, slinging a casually affectionate arm around them while performing, are reminiscent of David Bowie’s homoerotic and, at the time, scandalously ground-breaking, draping of an arm around Mick Ronson’s shoulders while dressed in snakeskin in 1972.
Mystify, directed by ‘veteran’ Australian filmmaker Richard Lowenstein reportedly took 10 years to make. Lowenstein is quoted as saying he made it as an ‘apology’ to Hutchence, a friend, for not being there for him at the end. The number of people of who feel culpable after a suicide is another tragedy.
The film is gripping. It probably helps if you really fancied Michael Hutchence, but what straight woman didn’t? There are candid interviews with people who were close to him, such as Kylie Minogue, Danish supermodel Helena Christensen and U2 singer Bono, and concert, video and TV footage is inter-cut with more personal video clips to create a patchwork-style documentary.
While dating Christensen, Hutchence was assaulted by a taxi driver in Copenhagen, which resulted in him falling and hitting his head on the curb. Those close to him reported a change in behaviour after this incident, which is repeatedly (and, yes, mystifyingly) described in the film as “the accident”. Hutchence became more moody, mercurial and prone to violent outbursts.
We know the rest. An improbable romance with British TV presenter and rock wife Paula Yates led to a bitter custody battle with Bob Geldof, and ended in drugs scandals, attacks on journalists and Hutchence’s suicide in a hotel room in 1997. Yates died three years later.
The film is mesmerising and kaleidoscopic, providing some genuine insights into a warm, complicated man who epitomized rock god sex appeal in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s – even as it unspools towards the inevitable tragedy at its end.