“The Chills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillipps” (2019)
Running time: 95 minutes
Directed by: Julia Parnell and Rob Curry
Featuring: Martin Phillipps, Bob Biggs, Daniel Dawson and James Dickson
“Each evening the sun sets in five billion places
Seen by ten billion eyes set in five billion faces
Then they close in a daze and wait for the dawning
But the daylight and sunrise are brighter in our eyes
Where night cannot devour golden solar power
Once we were damned, now I guess we are angels
For we passed through the dark and eluded the dangers
Then awoke with a start to startling changes
All the tension is ended, the sentence suspended
And darkness now sparkles and gleams
And it all seems larger than life to me
I find it rather hard to believe
And so I stand and the sound goes straight through my body
I’m so bloated up, happy, I can throw things around me
And I’m growing in stages and have been for ages
Just singing and floating and free”
Released this month in cinemas is the documentary “Mystify: Michael Hutchence ” (2019), which is primarily based on the celebrity as well as the personal life of INXS front man Michael Hutchence, the ups as well as the down, a few surprises are revealed which might explain some of the career as well as personal decisions he made before taking his own life over two decades ago. This is a documentary whose narrative is structured through three main ways, that is through archival interviews with the subject, archival video footage (as well as sometimes accompanying audio) and current interviews with people who surrounded Hutchence through his life looking back at certain time periods. The one great part of this new documentary is that the people that are left who want to talk about their interactions with Hutchence seem to be speaking the truth which exposes some parts of the titular singers life that have gone unsaid, this honesty offers a different picture of Hutchence’s life that may means his work as well as INXS’s music can be re-evaluated. I am not going to give the story of this documentary away as the impact of what occurs in the last third is not only shocking but actually gives an insight into what celebrity is now and what it was in the mid to late 1990s.
As far as documentaries go this is a very good example of a subject based one in that it not only explores what it takes to break through in popular music, but what it takes to do this from Australia (especially in the 1980s), the skill, talent and luck that needs to be present to offer music that is still around today even though it has been over twenty years since there has been an INXS album with the classic lineup. To be honest looking back at the music INXS created they really only produced one great album in the timeless, ageless ‘Listen like thieves’ (1985) and one massively successful album in ‘Kick’ (1989) which has sold twenty million copies worldwide. The fact that at least the first third has to tell an origin story of sorts that involves the band as much as it does Hutchance is the only real weakness of the narrative, this section is a little routine, charting the course of a band that as an audience we have not only seen in narrative film but also in other documentaries. However once we get past this aspect of the plot of the documentary and we see the very personal nature of the subject it becomes much more interesting and intense, we witness something never seen before, almost the truth of a man who struggles to figure out who he is which of course takes a dark turn after the events in Copenhagen in the early 1990s.
The past two years or so has been an excellent year for documentaries not only on streaming or DVD but also in cinemas, which is a trend that goes against what many people may have expected. However I find this to be exactly what should be expected especially with the concentration of so-called ‘fake news’ that now exists on the internet, coupled with what has been coming from the White House under the Trump Presidency. In fact there was a thought that cinematic documentaries might be a thing of the past especially with the success as well as saturation of Disney-fied blockbusters invading multiplexes, in fact audiences have been flocking to cinemas to seek out stories about real people making real differences in times and places where many others have been marginalised and made powerless by the people in charge in their respective times. Some of the great, as well as critically received, not forgetting making money documentaires at the box office are: “Wont you be my neighbour?” (2018), “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), “Jane” (2018), “RBG” (2018), and my personal favourite “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (2017) with so many more. What this says about audiences is that they will seek out true stories told in the relative first person that are not only inspiring but are direct counter programming to the politics of the day as well as the lies that are being produced by a President who is not only artificial but hate fuelled. My belief as a fan of documentaries is that this genre will only gain in popularity, with the coming years being a boon as well as revealing the importance of truth in the media as well as the importance of researching decisions made by the electorate. It is no surprise that the rise in fake news, Donald Trump, racism and may other hate fuelled elements has been answered by artists creating documentaries that prove there can be positive outcomes when people choose to buck the system as well as believing in others, differences, freedom and most of all, discussion.
The story of lyrical genius, Martin Phillipps and his band, The Chills, is a cautionary tale, a triumph over tragedy, and a statement about the meaning of music in our lives.