“Mystify: Michael Hutchence” (2019)
Running time: 95 minutes
Directed by: Richard Lowenstein
Featuring: Michael Hutchence, Andrew Farriss, Tim Farriss, Garry Gary Beers and Jon Farriss
“Eternally wild with the power
To make every moment come alive
All those stars that shine upon you
Will kiss you every night”– INXS, Mystify
Released this month on DVD/Blu-ray 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.
“Mystify: Michael Hutchence ” covers a large portion of the life of INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence which features private home video and archive footage. Included in the film are recollections with voice-overs by Kylie Minogue, Michele Bennett, from siblings Rhett and Tina Hutchence, stepmother Susie, producer Nick Launay, Bono and INXS band members, composer and keyboardist Andrew Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, bassist Garry Beers and drummer Jon Farriss.
This movie offers an insight into what happens when a music act becomes something huge, what seems like an overnight success where one day they are unknown and the next they are popular in almost every country in the world. What many of these acts need to come to grips with is the time when they are not the ‘next big thing’ but struggle to find not only a new audience but keeping the one they had, this is something we see Hutchence struggle with for at least half this documentary. It comes into focus at the Brit awards when Hutchence presents an award to Oasis and Noel Gallagher says ‘a has been shouldn’t present an award to a going to be.’ There is nothing more poignant than the look on the face of Hutchence as well as the aftermath of that when he is asked about the event, he can offer no real answer that doesn’t sound like he can see where his music career might be headed.
As I have said one of the great strengths of this documentary is the participation of people who knew Hutchence initmately who talk about him and their time with him. The aspect I enjoyed most was the picture painted of a man who loved life, wanting to share it with someone he could be close to as well as love. Hutchence had a very feminine side which comes through in his best written music and we can see how he related to women and children in a very caring way. All in all this is a very positive documentary but does examine some of the most difficult parts of his life without sentimentalizing them to make a better picture. All of the participants share both positive and negative aspects of his personality which we all have. Of course the fact that he struggled both before and after the incident in Copenhagen shows that there was not just one reason he committed suicide which is how victims feel. The great thing is the success if this documentary will not rest on whether an audience knows the music or the man as it is a well constructed documentary although I could not help but feel that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor.