STACK‘s Bryget Chrisfield got an early look at the new music documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence.

During the Q&A that followed the premiere Melbourne screening of Mystify: Michael Hutchence at the Astor Theatre, director Richard Lowenstein explained why he made the film: “I sort of felt like I owed [Michael] something… I didn’t recognise the legacy that was left behind – and of course I recognised the music and the filmed concert stuff and everything, but, you know, when I’d see documentaries/dramas, whatever, I’d just go, ‘Nah, I don’t recognise anything.’ And so I did feel that I personally… owed him a legacy that gave him some respect, even if only for the person he was. And also it’s partly an apology for not taking notice more at the end” – Lowenstein clearly regrets not persevering, since trying to keep in touch with his famous friend became increasingly difficult.

The documentary opens with footage of INXS performing in front of a giant, heaving stadium crowd in their heyday, and we’re instantly reminded of The Hutch Effect.

Probably much to the annoyance of his INXS bandmates, as soon as Michael hit the stage (or anywhere, really) it was impossible to drag your eyes away from him. As one of the film’s many interview subjects/voices attests early on in the piece, Hutchence was a born rockstar just waiting for the songs that would propel him onto the world stage, and boy did he deliver with INXS!

Mystify: Michael Hutchence is an oral history complemented by visual montages of rarely seen footage and scenes from intimate home movies, with audio commentary supplied by family members, managers, producers, friends (Bono, The Saints’ Chris Bailey, Jenny Morris) and ex-girlfriends (including Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen and Michele Bennett).

Lowenstein later explained that the use of just audio, rather than talking heads, allows the audience to go back in time and experience various chapters of Hutchence’s life without being dragged into the current day (people’s voices don’t age at the same rate as their faces). Sometimes subtitles compensate for scratchy audio snippets sourced from journalist’s Dictaphones; collating the visual content – which ranges in quality from downright crappy (relax, even Lowenstein used that word!) through to film grade – and presenting it in a way that looks somewhat cohesive must have been challenging, to say the least. But let’s face it: admiring Michael Hutchence on the silver screen – in any resolution – never gets old.

Initially, Mystify: Michael Hutchence was to be made without the use of any INXS music, since the remaining band members were a bit nervous about how they would be portrayed.

Lowenstein revealed during the post-screening Q&A that he had anxiously watched an early cut of the film with Tiger Lily, Hutchence’s daughter with Paula Yates. After Tiger Lily gave Lowenstein’s documentary her blessing, she also emailed the remaining INXS members, as well as the band’s record companies and management, and then, suddenly, permission to use INXS’s music was granted.

Richard Lowenstein and Michael Hutchence

Viewers who didn’t realise the extent of Hutchence’s traumatic brain injury – sustained when he was king-hit by a taxi driver in Denmark in August 1992 (right around the time that INXS’s eighth studio album, Welcome to Wherever You Are, was released) – will gain insight into how much this attack altered the INXS singer’s personality. In the film, Christensen, Hutchence’s girlfriend at the time, questions how the hospital could possibly have released him (even though he became violent and insisted on leaving). The Danish supermodel recalls Hutchence was then bedridden for a month, became “dark and very angry” and depressed. A scan eventually revealed torn cranial nerves, which translated to Hutchence permanently losing his senses of taste and smell. His INXS bandmates recount instances of their singer’s uncharacteristically aggressive behaviour during Full Moon, Dirty Hearts recording sessions.

Listening to those who woke up next to Hutchence with some regularity reminiscing about treasured moments (footage of Michael and Kylie on The Orient Express is cuteness overload!), as well as darker encounters and heartbreak, drums home just how hard it must have been for those left behind to navigate their grief.

As the documentary comes to a close, the beginning of Mystify‘s official music video is incorporated: we watch Hutch and Andrew Farriss sitting at a piano, tweaking the arrangement for this INXS song (one of many hits the pair co-wrote). Cut to INXS performing this same song in front of a massive, adoring arena crowd – a fitting reminder of this Australian band’s world-conquering zenith.

Post-screening, Lowenstein articulated his hopes that Mystify: Michael Hutchence will go some way toward rectifying the way Hutchence’s tragic demise was handled:

“The whole scenario needs sympathy and understanding. It doesn’t need tabloid crucifixion or judgement on… ‘He’d be alive if she didn’t do this or he didn’t do that’… There was obviously some self-centredness going on around Michael, but I don’t think there was any real baddies in this story.”

(Stay tuned for news on Mystify: Michael Hutchence the director’s cut, which Lowenstein mentioned as a possibility after revealing the section on Hutch’s acting career – his starring role in the Lowenstein-directed cult classic Dogs In Space included – wound up on the cutting room floor.)

Mystify: Michael Hutchence is in cinemas on July 4 – check for further advance screenings with director Q&A in selected cinemas.