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Mystify illuminates the dark corners of Michael Hutchence's life

MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE
directed by Richard Lowenstein

A new documentary about the late Australian rockstar paints him as a frustrated artist.

“But I just want to be an artist!” Such is the perennial, anguished cry of the celebrity who, having reached an apogee of success, suddenly realises that fame can be empty, illusory and full of cruel pressures.

In Mystify, a stirring, intimate portrait of charismatic INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, you get the impression that he really was an artist waylaid: a smouldering arena-bound rock god “shaking his arse” for the cameras who just wanted to live a meditative life reading Camus and Wilde and Hesse and listening to Motown records.

Surprisingly, film-maker Richard Lowenstein (a friend of Hutchence, who cast him in his 1986 movie Dogs in Space and who made many INXS videos) doesn’t give much time to the tunes, only noting tours and albums as markers in the singer’s life. Instead, it falls mostly to his ex-girlfriends to narrate: Michele Bennett, Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen, among others, each of them devastatingly articulate, lyrically describing the pressures and tolls, the expectation to conform to a constructed image.

It is Christensen who hints at a foundational reason for the singer’s suicide in 1997: an assault in Denmark years earlier that left him brain-damaged, his sense of smell gone, only exacerbating his feelings of lost self. From then on, towards the end, the otherwise shy and reticent Hutchence – who deliberately didn’t wear contact lenses onstage for fear of seeing the crowd – became depressive and distraught. Mystify is at its best when illuminating these dark, hidden corners of his life.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the September 21, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.