Need You Tonight. New Sensation. Never Tear Us Apart. We all know of INXS, their music infiltrating worldwide charts since the 1980s. And while lead singer Michael Hutchence‘s private life may have made the news on more than one occasion, few really knew the man behind the headlines – until now.
Opening on footage taken backstage, dubbed over by a telephone call, Mystify: Michael Hutchence sets the tone from the start. This is a documentary created completely from film taken by Michael himself, bandmates, family, girlfriends, and reporters. From there, we travel through Michael’s early years, witness to his unconventional home life, and arriving in his late teens. Alongside friends Andrew, Tim and Jon Farriss, Garry Beers and Kirk Pengilly, the six men formed INXS, a pop-rock band that soon became popular in their native Australia.
Quickly picking up more gigs, fans and experience, the band started touring and supporting the likes of Adam and the Ants, The Kinks, Hall & Oates, and Men at Work. Making a global name for themselves, albums flying off the shelves, INXS were the band to see. But with a brief break – Hutchence worked on solo project, Max Q, during this time – and the 80s music scene moving into 90s boyband territory, the group’s popularity could never again hit its previously heady heights. Despite this, Hutchence continued to make the news, dating the likes of popstar Kylie Minogue and model Helena Christensen, confirming his status as rock music’s ‘bad boy’.
After meeting television presenter Paula Yates in 1995 (then married to The Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof) the pair soon became inseparable, and welcomed daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily in July 1996. Yet, despite their newfound happiness, Michael and Paula’s relationship was tainted by extreme pressure due to ongoing divorce and custody proceedings between Yates and Geldof. Reportedly due to this stress, plus a predilection for drugs and alcohol, Hutchence was found dead in his hotel room in Sydney in 1997, aged just 37 years old.
What really makes Mystify: Michael Hutchence just so good is its use of archive footage. While we hear from those closest to Michael throughout, including his parents and siblings, the visual focus is on Michael himself – and we can’t take our gaze off him. Said to have an intense stare – ‘Michael made you feel like you were the only person in the room’ – his eyes pierce through the screen and make you feel exactly that, like he’s talking directly to you. While ruggedly attractive, its his eyes we track from the start, watching them change from bright and hopefully happy, to those of a troubled man.
An obvious dreamer, friends tell that he wanted to be recognised as an artist, yet was described as being ‘a rockstar waiting to happen’, quite the opposite of his idealised writer/humble musician persona. Minogue, retelling stories of their relationship, credits Michael as being the racy influence she needed to move away from teen-pop, their time together consisting of ‘sex, love, food, books, art…pleasure’. Quite the same, Christensen spent her time with an older Hutchence, tired of the road and looking to break out on his own, itchy feet pushing him to fly further and try new things. Quoted as saying ‘I hope I don’t become a lead story’, the film follows his life through to this premonition becoming tragically true, his dramatic personal life printed as front page fodder.
For those aware of Hutchence and his untimely passing, yet unaware of his early life and INXS’ beginning, Mystify is an eyeopening, heartbreaking education on one of modern music’s best leading men. For longtime fans, this is like a 100-minute love letter to Michael, from his bandmates and family. While portrayed in a positive light, the film does cover his indiscretions, including heavy drinking – those who loved Michael knew he wasn’t a saint, and they don’t try to paint him that way. Directed by Richard Lowenstein, the name behind a string of INXS music videos, this feels like a true, accurate representation of a beautiful soul. A must-see for fans and those new to INXS, alike.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence arrives in UK cinemas from 18 October from Dogwoof.
Watch the trailer: