Richard Lowenstein’s documentary and closing night film of DUB 2019 approaches the both fascinating and touching biography of Michael Hutchence through the INXS frontman’s own footage.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence is not just a must-see for the fans of the exceptional band and its lead singer. The moving documentary had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is currently hitting Australian cinemas. Now, audiences in Berlin will have the unique chance to watch the film as the closing night feature of this year’s Down Under Berlin film festival on 29 September 2019 at 8:15 PM.
Michael Hutchence, INXS – more than twenty years after his early death, both his unique presence and the band’s sound still resonate. Who doesn’t know “Suicide Blonde” from their 1990 album “X”? Not just in Australian pubs, it is difficult to evade their classic songs. As in many cases, the band and their frontman were closely interconnected, and INXS could never recover from Hutchence’s suicide in 1997.
Laird Borrelli-Persson, Vogue
Lowenstein is not just a gifted filmmaker, but he has a longtime and close connection to Hutchence. Since their first collaboration in 1984, when Lowenstein made the video clip for “Burn for You”, INXS’s third single from their breakthrough album “The Swing”, he made many more video clips, concert films and not the least the feature film “Dogs in Space” (1986), starring Hutchence as a fictitious band’s drug-addled frontman.
There are so many well-trodden paths of doing a documentary, especially about an internationally renowned pop star. In fact, there is an abundance of the basic ingredients of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. Luckily, Richard Lowenstein does not fall for these all too obvious traps in his moving Mystify: Michael Hutchence. Instead, he could revert to many home videos, made by Hutchence himself as well as lovers, family members and friends. These clips, meticulously converted into stunning HD, provide for an intimate insight into a unique person, full of zest for life and creativity, but also sensibility and ultimately fragility.
Vicky Roach, The Daily Telegraph
Vicky Roach, The Daily Telegraph
For Mystify, Lowenstein began interviewing partners, friends, family members and professional companions in 2010. There is no narrator, and instead of “talking heads” (another usual feature of such documentaries), Lowenstein boldly decided to use their voices only. Thus, instead of seeing today’s Kylie Minogue, once a romantic partner of Hutchence, we watch the young couple in Hong Kong or in the Orient Express and listen to her voice – with a clearly audible lump in her throat, decades after their relationship. Lowenstein himself stated that “all these people are still incredibly damaged, not by the ups and downs of being (…) with Michael Hutchence, but the damage done by his departure. He’s left this huge hole in everyone.”
In Mystify, the viewer is allowed to look behind such myths, to understand the fractured family the enigmatic singer came from, and his nearly unrivalled lust for life and, thus, the wish to see, feel and experience everything. With all the highs and lows in Hutchence’s life and his band’s international success, one event is as tragic as overlooked in the usual biographies: A fractured skull, suffered in 1992, lead to an almost complete loss of his senses of smell and taste. While this is already hard to bear for any ordinary person, a person as sensitive and hedonistic as Hutchence must have been severely affected. Even more so, as another consequence of the brain damage, the former gentle singer became both aggressive and depressive. With hindsight, the road to self-destruction had become well-paved, and the love of life was transformed into corrosive obsession.
Graham Fuller, Screen International
How did this all happen? Back then, the tabloids had an easy reasoning: the “wild man of rock” just went one step too far. The general narrative was set by the media, and Hutchence was excellent fodder for them: good-looking, with an almost supernatural presence on stage, he became infamous for his drug use and his erratic and even threatening behaviour – and fore his romantic relationship with Paula Yates, back then married to “Live Aid” organiser Bob Geldof. The British tabloids had a perfect match of “Saint Bob” vs. a druggie singer coming from a former convict colony, stealing the former’s wife. In fact, the mid-1990s can be regarded as one of the low points of aggressive paparazzi, with Princess Diana’s death having occurred just three months before Hutchence’s suicide. Even this tragic event has been obscured as accidental autoerotic asphyxiation, a description seemingly so much more fitting to an extrovert star than the complex reality.
Lowenstein regards his film as an apology, as he was not there for his friend when he was in need. After seeing a rough cut of the film, Tiger Lily, Hutchence’s daughter with Paula Yates, could convince INXS to license the rights of nine songs that fittingly contribute to the documentary’s mesmerising soundtrack. Luckily, while Mystify reminds us of the band’s timeless greatness, it does not get absorbed in the albeit fascinating story of INXS. Mystify does neither contribute to further mystification of its enigmatic main character, nor does it try to invent a deconstructive narration; instead, it is an intimate and close-up portrayal of a complex and most sensitive individual. Therefore, it is not just a must-see for any fan, but a moving portrait of an exceptional character and of human fragility.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence
"A journey into the heart and soul of Michael Hutchence, internationally renowned lead-singer of INXS, a complex and shy man who spent the bulk of his life in the public eye, rarely revealing his true self to anyone except his very close friends."
Richard Lowenstein | AUS | 2019 | Documentary | 102 min | English | Berlin Premiere
Down Under Berlin 2019 closing night film.
Will be screened on 29 September 2019 at 8:15pm @ Moviemento Kino.
View the entire 2019 festival program here.
We’ll see you at the movies!
Header image © Andrew de Groot
Text by Martin Bayer