“It’s just as difficult to live in a self-made hell of privacy as it is to live in a self-made hell of publicity.” – Michael Hutchence
On the morning of November 22, 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Double Bay, Sydney. His death was ruled as suicide. The reasons why he did this were circulated but none answered the defining question as to what drove a person who once had everything to take his own life.
For 20 years he had been the frontman for the band INXS, an Australian outfit who had released five albums between 1980 and 1985 before becoming superstars with their sixth Kick. From 1987 until 1989 there was no escaping the Aussie rockers and Hutchence became idolized and adored. The frontman and lyricist had all the qualities of a rock star – talent, charisma and sexual energy. With flowing locks and piercing eyes, he was one part Jim Morrison, one part Mick Jagger.
With success came media attention. Every step or misstep was heavily scrutinized and reported on. Hutchence’s string of lovers and his private life soon became fair game for the tabloids. He was linked to Kylie Minogue, Belinda Carlisle, Helena Christensen, Kym Wilson and of course his last love Paula Yates. In 1994 their relationship became headline news as their affair (Yates was married to Bob Geldof at the time) was uncovered.
There is nothing media loves more than seeing a powerful presence knocked off their pedestal. As the decline of INXS’ music and sales began, so did the public perception of Hutchence. Within three years from their love affair beginning, legal battles were looming between Geldof and Yates over custody of their children. Not long after Hutchence took his life, followed three years later by the death of Yeats from a heroin overdose.
It seemed as though a lot of the tragedy surrounding the passing of Hutchence had been overshadowed by the Geldof/Yates battle and all that had led up to it. What the long overdue Mystify offers is an actual fly-on-the-wall insight into the life of this troubled star. Directed by Richard Lowenstein – someone who knew Hutchence personally, shooting many of INXS’ live shows and music videos – here the filmmaker seeks to uncover the truth about the rock stars’ life and death.
Mystify is an authentic look at what actually happened in those final years of Hutchence’s life – providing a glimpse into who this rock star was behind the mask of fame and adoration. What makes it essential though is a quality it shares with Asif Kapadia’s critically acclaimed Amy Winehouse documentary. Like 2015’s Amy, Mystify lovingly capturing a human being, for all their faults, as simply that – a person. This separates it from the intruding militant style of British media which haunted these two stars while they were alive. Mystify gives the tragic figure of Hutchence the coverage he deserves, the way he should be remembered minus the vicious headlines.
Most compelling, along with the inclusion of previously private home video footage, is the way in which Lowenstein conducts his own investigation into the death of the rock star. At the time, it was circulated and alleged by Yates, along with the tabloids, to be the result of autoerotic asphyxiation. This was and still is refuted by both his remaining family and close friends.
Instead, the documentary points to an incident involving a taxi driver on the streets of Copenhagen in 1992. The assault left Hutchence brain-damaged, without a proper sense of taste or even smell. This led the frontman on an even bigger trail of self-destruction, seeking danger and a voyage into the abyss of drug abuse. From here he was a changed individual. The investigation into this by Lowenstein adds real narrative thrust to his documentary, one which treats its subject with the dignity he deserves while commenting on the fragility of life regardless of status.