‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ review: a touching tribute to one of music’s most misunderstood showmen

Intensely moving documentary takes fans inside the life of a pop-rock maverick

By the time the 1996 Brit Awards rolled into view the silky sounds of Australian rock juggernaut INXS had fallen out of favour. The preceding decade brought the band huge international acclaim thanks to a string of hit singles such as ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘New Sensation’. But in the wake of the coarse textures of grunge and the chiming guitar sensibilities of Britpop, their output seemed as ineffectual as a damp sparkler at a fireworks display. The soft image didn’t help much either.

In hindsight, the red flags should have been easy for organisers to spot. Nevertheless, they handed tousle-haired frontman Michael Hutchence the responsibility of passing the Best Video award to Oasis. “Has beens shouldn’t present fucking awards to gonnabes,” Noel Gallagher spat from the podium. Behind him, Hutchence looked on: chastened, awkward and embarrassed.

This moment “crushed” Hutchence, according to former manager Martha Troup in Mystify — a new documentary on the late singer by his close friend Richard Lowenstein. Fourteen months later, his group released their tenth studio album, Elegantly Wasted. If it was an attempt to recapture former glories, it failed. By the November of 1997, Hutchence would be found dead, hanging in his Sydney hotel room. He was 37 years of age.

Lowenstein’s poignant profile goes some way towards peeling back the salacious tabloid headlines that dominated the rock god’s final years. A string of testimonials speak warmly of a one-time sensitive soul whose altercation with a taxi driver on the streets of Copenhagen in 1992 left him permanently brain damaged and changed for good. Robbed of his sense of smell and taste, Hutchence became a volatile Jekyll and Hyde character prone to acts of aggression.

It is clear, though, that Mystify’s intentions are predominately and unashamedly sympathetic to the late star. We are steered through his childhood, rise to fame, creative aspirations and achievements, as well as his hectic love life. The result is a comprehensive documentary on one of music’s most misunderstood showmen.

Warren Ellis (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Dirty Three) has been charged with soundtrack duties. His involvement explains the inclusion of a gorgeous, pared-down version of ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ featuring the frontman’s one-time girlfriend Kylie Minogue alongside Nick Cave. It accompanies private footage of Hutchence and Minogue cavorting, enjoying the warm flushes of their two-year romance that lasted between 1989 and 1991. Kylie reflects on this period with affection and candour in the voiceover. Her recollection is at odds with the post-injury image of Hutchence during his tempestuous relationship with the television presenter Paula Yates.

The film concludes with the singer in his prime, sat on a piano stool next to bandmate Andrew Farris thumping away at the keys for a spellbinding version of ‘Mystify’. It is a beautiful reminder of the magic they could conjure together. This moving documentary pays tribute to talent behind the flashbulb glare, but most appropriately, it finishes just as it starts: with focus on the music.


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