Mystify: Michael Hutchence (4 stars)

Mystify: Michael Hutchence

credit: Steve Pyke

The INXS frontman is the subject of a thoughtful documentary, directed by his friend Richard Lowenstein

Rock icons make great documentary subjects: dynamic concert and backstage footage can be stitched together as a tribute, particularly when a performer proved to be as memorably, elegantly wasted as Michael Hutchence. The INXS frontman's rise and fall made him an unwitting staple of tabloid slander, his reputation tarnished even before his suicide in 1997, aged 37. Richard Lowenstein's thoughtfully-assembled documentary strives to locate the man behind the myth.

Hutchence's family, friends, lovers and acquaintances provide voiceovers as Lowenstein uses archive footage to depict a born performer who seems to have lacked confidence in his private life – a deadly combination of a high public profile and low self-esteem. Drugs are consumed voraciously, relationships are formed and collapse, and all the while both singer and band seem to be chasing a level of success that proved elusive.

Fellow Australian Lowenstein was a close friend of his subject, directing him in 1986's Dogs in Space and numerous music videos, and he captures the star at his best and worst. The filmmaker makes pertinent points about Hutchence's demise; tabloids demonised the singer one final time by suggesting autoerotic asphyxiation as a cause of death, but Hutchence had been struggling with mental health issues relating to a brain injury, and there's revelatory testimony here that suggests why this film needed to be made.

Mystify can only be a cautionary tale, yet there's plenty of evidence that Hutchence was an electrifying performer in his prime. There's also intimate homemade footage from his time with Kylie Minogue, and sobering fragments from his chaotic relationship with Paula Yates. Although many such moments have been raked over in cynical clip-shows, perhaps the fresh context provided by this documentary will enable fans and newcomers alike to see past the scandals to discover who Hutchence really was.

Limited release from Fri 18 Oct.

Mystify: Michael Hutchence

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • Australia
  • 1h 42min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Richard Lowenstein
  • UK release: 18 October 2019

A documentary about the INXS frontman, thoughtfully assembled from archive footage and suggesting that his death may have been related to mental health issues relating to a brain injury. Hutchence is a great subject and there’s plenty of fascinating footage providing a fresh context for understanding his troubled life.