Film Review: Mystify: Michael Hutchence

Who put those tiny daggers in your heart’

The album ‘Kick’ by Australian band INXS burst through into the world in October 1987. It was the sixth studio album from band, but probably the first album I bought of their’s (then immediately got all the earlier works, and went to see them live numerous times), which went on to go six times platinum and led to me painting the artwork of the second single off the album ‘Devil Inside’ on my bedroom wall. The album still holds up today, and for a time INXS were one of the biggest bands in the entire world, the mural on my wall however, has long gone.

INXS were formed originally under the name The Farriss Brothers in 1977 by brothers Andrew, Jon and Tim Farriss, Garry Gary Beers, Kirk Pengilly and lead singer Michael Hutchence, who tragically took his own life in 22 November 1997. ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ (2019) directed by Richard Lowenstein is a sombre, yet rightly incredibly respectful homage to a talent who was revered by fans and fellow artists and vilified by the press (especially in the UK), which the documentary in no uncertain terms shows led to his death.

It would be hard to equate the levels of fame that Michael and the band had at the peak of their career to a present world where everyone seems to be famous, but even though there were many members in the band, the press of the world chose to constantly focus on Michael himself, the front man with the model looks, the media dutifully diminishing and belittling the artistic integrity he and the band sorely sought.

Given the amount of press coverage they got, and in particular Michael, it is quite potent, and actually upsetting in the documentary how much we didn’t actually know him at all. Millions may have sang (screamed) their songs around the world, but never knew the origins behind these tracks, or the ever-decreasing mental health of the lead singer who was the main lyricist in the band who penned them.

The film is a tough watch, but equally so a wonderful respectful and actually vital moment of storytelling. The film aptly comes out around Mental Illness Awareness Week, and the couldn’t be a more fitting time for its release.

As is often the case with artists/performers, there is a transformation between who they are in isolation, or with friends, and who they become in the moment of their art. Despite Michael being recognised as one of the most charismatic front men at the time, the film tenderly removes this mask entirely and reveals the crippling gentle soul behind the facade.  
With a wonderful amount of home recordings, footage, photos and contributions from family, friends and ex partners, all of whom still have profound love in their voices for Michael. There’s huge honesty and candour throughout, as it rightly rewrites any cynicism that would have been perpetrated by press who clearly had an agenda, at absolutely any cost, which has been proven countless times over the years.

There is much to take from the film, huge talent, love (particularly in the video travelogue with his partner for two years Kylie Minogue), affection, tenderness, artistic integrity/ability, charisma and aspiration, but there’s also a pervading darkness. It was completely disorientating to me that I didn’t know that Hutchence was in an incident in 1992 in Copenhagen where a taxi driver struck him, leaving him permanently brain-damaged, completely losing his sense of smell and taste forever. Considering how rapturously he clearly tried to embrace life as much as he could prior to this moment, in hindsight, it seems it was the beginning of the end. But it didn’t have to be that way, despite the enormity of the damage to one which such intense artistic/intellectual absorptions and acuity, he found other ways to fill his world. But it becomes very clear that multiple entities were not going to allow this to happen, and continued to hound a sick man with an endless daggers of words, that clearly lead to his ability to cope any more.

As I mentioned, it’s tough to watch the demise of talent, any talent, but when the final tragic events are so potent and vindicative, it’s a terrible indictment of a world we allow and tolerate to go unhampered, but it’s an absolute credit to everyone involved in the making and sharing of this film, as its truth is the kick we all need, and a warning to us all.

8/10 ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ is out now. 

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.

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