It was a little over 22 years ago that the music industry sadly had to say goodbye to INXS singer and flamboyant musician Michael Hutchence. While he’s tragically gone, he’s absolutely not forgotten. Director, writer, editor and close friend of Michael, Richard Lowenstein (“He Died with a Felafel in His Hand”, “Vi strejkar!”) is now honouring this eccentric performer with his latest documentary “Mystify: Michael Hutchence”. We sat down with Lowenstein and talked about Michael, making the documentary, pop music and Australia. This is part two of our long, exciting and intruiging interview. Read the first part of the interview.
LV: You knew Michael already very well before this documentary. During the making of Mystify, what was the thing that shocked you the most that you didn’t know about him?
RL: Michael always portrayed himself towards his friends as a happy guy who didn’t have moods or mad complexity. He was just living the life as a successful musician and it seemed that things were going great. While making this documentary, I discovered that things weren’t so great at all, even during his happy times. There was also insecurity, guilt, and harm. I discovered a lot more complications than I didn’t know about before going into this film.
Then I discovered the big thing which was the accident and what happened. I got to know about that thanks to Helena Christensen telling me that part of the story. I knew that she knew something about that and that I wanted to use it. She could have easily said, “I’m not talking about it”. Luckily she didn’t say that. They broke up more than 20 years ago and that’s how long she didn’t talk to anyone about Michael, apart from to close friends. She gave me a vivid description of that accident.
That sent me out on a path to find the autopsy report and the full evidence. It took a long time to find that or at least the full report. It was always edited down for the public and a full report was never released, not even to the family. We were able to find an uncut version of it and I gave it to the doctors. One of them rang me up in the middle of the night and told me that Michael was severely brain-damaged and that Michael was trying to cover it up. Anybody with that level of brain damage has a very high risk of suicide. After getting to know that, we had to reshape the film a little bit because we got this new information.
LV: Were there any people you wanted to talk to but that you didn’t get?
RL: Well, only one or two people refused to talk. I think they did that because their relationship with Michael has been fractious and they didn’t want to bring it all up again. I would have loved to be able to speak to one of those. At the end of the day, we focussed on the people who knew him very intimate: who slept with him, woke up with him, who were on tour with him and things like that.
The one person I didn’t realize existed was that girl at the end of the film, with whom Michael had an affair when he was with Paula Yates for three to six months. Her story was wonderful and she again gave me some intimate story about her and Michael, especially about what he was like during the last year of his life. It was important for me to include her. That chapter wasn’t only about his love story with Paula as it turned out he was looking for an escape and this girl was that. She was very lovely, sweet and faithful.
LV: Have the people you’ve spoken to already seen the movie?
RL: Yeah, they have but maybe not the entire movie. Everyone who I interview got to see the section of the film they are in. I send Kylie [Minogue] a video from about 20 minutes but I’m not sure if she saw the full movie already. She was invited to come and see it but when she in Australia, we’re in the UK or somewhere else and when she’s here, we’re in Australia. She’s incredibly busy. Helena [Christensen] was invited to the New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival but she wasn’t able to make it that day. Michèle [Bennett] has seen it and likes it a lot. It was very hard for her to see it.
LV: This movie has already been to New York, Sydney, London, Warshaw, etc. Are there other countries this film will be released in?
RL: Yes, it will be released in Belgium and The Netherlands soon. It’s going to screen in America in January across 700 screens. It’s going to Germany and it’s been bought by Italy, all the Eastern European nations and France as well. All the releases are happing at different times. It opened in Australia a few months ago and for a documentary, it did very well.
LV: Are there any of those countries that might not be as open to seeing the eccentric lifestyle Michael had as other countries? Did you have to make adjustments to the documentary because of that?
RL: No, I think the countries that are open to see it, will play it as we made it. Certain countries will put in the cinema and some will just broadcast it.
LV: What do you hope that people will take away after seeing this film?
RL: I hope that the younger generation can find out about his role in music history. They got to hear about Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and The Beatles but I do believe that Michael as an on-stage performer was on the same level. His skills were without a doubt his song writing and his on-stage performance. I think he’s an important figure in pop music history, especially from the 80s. Around ‘86-‘87 there was a time that the two biggest bands in the world were U2 and INXS. U2 managed to transcend the 90s and to keep going. They’re still a big entity today. INXS stumbled and had all its problems, just like Michael himself had. Sadly, they sort of disappeared in music history. I think Michael in particularly and the music deserve a solid place in history.
Pop music is an cruel industry. It’s about youth, beauty, and talent and not particularly in that order. When you get older and unless you can transcend with your music (like David Bowie, U2, etc.), a young and upcoming performer will takes your place. There’s a section in the documentary about Oasis rising up in the 90s and INXS falling at that same time. Michael gave Oasis an award and he loved the band but they couldn’t return him the favour. They called him “a has-been” but 10 years later, Oasis were the “has-beens”.
I don’t get down to Oasis at all but I do find that the pop music industry can have a terrible effect on your mental health and sense of mortality. When you reach a certain age, people say “oh I will stop buying your records because you’re an older bastard now”. As a musician, you get to be aware of what you’re getting into. I think Michael got aware of that a little bit too late. He took the golden chalice of being a sex-god, youthful and beautiful but he got a suspicion that halfway through his journey that it wasn’t going to last. Sadly, then it was almost too late. I think it’s a cautionary tale.
LV: One last question: Do you already have other projects coming up?
RL: I do have some ideas. I started my career in drama directing and I want to go back to that. Perhaps a mini-series. I’m interested in making another documentary. We’ve made four documentaries almost back to back for ten years now so I’m looking forward to taking some time off. I would love to go fully back to directing and not the editing as I did with this movie mostly. I would like to go back behind the camera and shoot again.
Read our review of “Mystify: Michael Hutchence”