Richard Lowenstein’s long-awaited documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence arrived in July 2019 after a decade in the works. It’s no surprise that Lowenstein seems to struggle a bit to determine the best path to take to frame Hutchence’s story; after all, they were close friends. That being said – it was definitely worth the wait.
Mystify is not your standard rock documentary. There are no talking heads, and there’s no narrator. Instead, Lowenstein relies entirely on archival footage – much of it shot by the singer himself, or by his intimate friends and partners – with his story told as an off-camera oral history by associates and lovers in particular, INXS’s United States manager, Martha Troup.
It contains hours of footage from audio, video and photographs, condensed and compiled into an hour and 45 minutes, but still leaves you wanting more. Starting with his early days, you can see Michael’s innate charm, and charisma. If the “X factor” is that indefinable charisma that gives a performer star power, the late Michael Hutchence had it in abundance. Once Michael was asked what his definition of rock n roll was, and he replied with a cheeky grin, “Liberation.” That one sentence seems to capture him at a glance. It has everything, starting from birth, to his parents’ broken marriage, to performing live, to his unexpected and tragic death by suicide.
Early girlfriend and long-time friend Michelle Bennett loomed large in his early INXS days, as a very stabilizing force that Michael seemed to really need in his life. She said of him, “Michael had no rules, except to be happy. He was very cerebral. He loved the Beatles, especially John Lennon. INXS was truly a family to him.” Their romantic relationship became rocky and unfulfilling for both parties and ended amicably. They continued until the end of his life as very good friends. In fact, the song “Never Tear Us Apart” was about Michelle. Michael stated when asked, “It’s definitely a song for a girl named Michelle, but we’re not together anymore.”
INXS manager Martha Troup said of Michael, “he could look you in the eye and make you feel like you were the only person in the room. He had a generosity of spirit – very unassuming, kind and friendly.” This seems to be the general consensus throughout the documentary.
The band continued to grow in popularity, but after the massive success of Kick, you could visibly see the toll it was taking on the band, particularly Michael. In an effort to ‘clear his head,’ Michael decided, against advice, to try a solo album. Using random studio musicians, and billed as Max-Q, the album did fairly well in Australia but failed to chart in the US, reaching only a dismal 182 out of 200 on the Billboard chart. Undaunted, Michael felt it was something he needed to do, nonetheless. It was his own version of a ‘primal scream’. He even cut off his trademark hair, prior to making the album.
The documentary also profiles his relationships with Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen, and Paula Yates, and goes in depth into the accident in 1995 that really changed Michael’s life as he knew it forever. Tragically, he lost his sense of taste and smell as a result, when he was punched in the face and fell backwards, hitting his head and knocking him out cold. He saw numerous doctors, but to no avail. He became very bitter and belligerent as a result, and at times, very violent.
Paula Yates seemed to really know how to stir him up, she was quite a button pusher according to several friends. Having his daughter with her, Tiger-Lily, seemed to calm him down for a bit, but Paula’s erratic and often bizarre, drug-induced behavior kept him in a constant state of upheaval. According to the usual helpful ‘friends’ who spoke up after his death, Hutchence wanted to break up with Paula but didn’t know how to extract himself, especially with a child involved. This constant turmoil led to Michael becoming more and more morose, and ultimately in him ending his own life in November 1997. Paula would soon follow, succumbing 3 years later to a heroin overdose. Upon Michael’s death, an autopsy revealed 2 large areas of brain damage, resulting from the 1995 assault.
While very well done, and much of it told in Michael’s own words, this documentary still left me wanting more. More so, from the tragic ending that I ultimately knew was coming. I couldn’t help but think about what might have been? It boggles the mind …
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]