MYSTIFY: Lowenstein on Michael Hutchence

“MY ENDURING MEMORY OF MICHAEL HUTCHENCE IS HIM ASLEEP IN THE SUN on the steps of the Australian Film Commission… [in France], after being up all night. David Stratton walked into the AFC office and dropped a one franc coin into Michael’s hand because he thought he was a beggar! Michael just sought of looked up – he didn’t know who David was either – and goes: thanks mate!”

Talking to 2SER’ s PARIS POMPOR from a hotel in Darling Harbour, Australian filmmaker RICHARD LOWENSTEIN is sharing memories from the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, where he was taking his first feature film, Strikebound. Lowenstein was also halfway through making INXS’s Burn For You video at the time, and in the midst of Cannes fever got a call asking him to join the band nearby where they were playing a French music festival. At this point INXS were yet to break it big time outside of Australia, so the members were still getting around unrecognised by fan mobs, and spent the hours after their gig going from party to party with Lowenstein an impromptu member of their no-sleep-till-dawn enterouge. As Lowenstein remembers with a laugh, the irony of having film critic David Stratton flicking the band’s singer a pitiful coin, was that a few hours before bunking down on the film commission’s steps to finally get some shuteye, news had reached band members that they’d just scored their first #1 hit in France. Their ride on the rollercoaster to global celebrity had just reached tipping point and soon the band would be free-falling and rolling in cash.

Helping to catapult the band to stardom was one of the sexiest guys to ever front an Australian pop band: Michael Hutchence. Despite an earlier, arguably less successful commercial-TV effort, finally the singer has the documentary he deserves. Made by his friend, Richard Lowenstein (who also directed Hutchence in the punky cult classic Dogs In Space), this new cinematic biography is an often tender, highly personal look at a complex character. It also attempts to explain what led Hutchence to that fateful Sydney night in 1997 when his life and career was tragically cut short.

Called Mystify, there are revelations throughout that film that could just as easily have suggested a number of other titles from Hutchence considerable back catalogue: Stay Young, Dekadance, Devil Inside, Disappear, Not Enough Time, Rooms For The Memory… In fact there are a number of moments as the arc in the story heightens, that plead for lyrics to certain Hutchence songs to underscore the snowballing drama. Yet Lowenstein’s approach is more subtle. Thankfully devoid of famous talking heads, Mystify instead generally lets faceless voiceovers and some remarkable footage tell the warts-and-all story.

Some of this most remarkable and candid footage features Hutchence with one-time lover Kylie Minogue. Edited into a substantial centrepiece sequence of the film, the montage highlights an enduring and life-changing love, all intimately captured on shaky home video. With a sometimes scantily clad Kylie and Michael together in bedrooms and bathrooms, on trains or off the beaten track, it begs the question: How on earth did this private footage come to be in Lowenstein’s possession?

“In a briefcase hand-cuffed to my wrist,” quips the director when asked.

Having flown to London to interview Minogue for the film, Lowenstein thought he’d gotten everything out of her, until he got a call from Kylie’s manager saying she wanted to see him again. Lowenstein was already on his way to the airport to fly back home. Hurriedly, he made a quick detour en route to Heathrow.

It was a decision that would change everything.

“I literally had all my bags and everything. I go and see Kylie at her address and she just opens up a laptop and says: Look what I found! And she showed me all this [footage].”

Lowenstein was incredulous, but the director’s not really one for public shows of exuberance.

“I said: That’s great, but you’re not going to let me use this are you? And she said: Yeah, why not? I look good don’t I? My bum looks good doesn’t it? It looks much better then, that it does now.”

Lowenstein chuckles as he recalls the conversation and Minogue’s good humour and generosity, telling her she most certainly still has nothing to worry about in the bum department.

Kylie still had more to reveal.

“Then, there’s this folder of slides of both her and Michael that she keeps organised in this amazing archive. Dated and everything. So [I got] handed this folder of slides.”

Having offered to get them scanned, despite Minogue’s obvious emotional attachment to the images, she insisted Lowenstein “just take them”.

“Because I’ve got a pretty flakey memory, I was panicked about losing [the folder] on the way home. If they got into the wrong hands, those stills would be dynamite with the tabloid press.”

Minogue’s gift became the benchmark for the rest of the film, says Lowenstein.

“We then bent over backwards trying to get everyone’s home movie stuff. A lot of people had Video8 cameras back then. We just went berserk trying to get all those tapes so that the rest of the film was on the same level.”

You can listen to the rest of 2SER’s interview with Richard Lowenstein below, recorded the day after the Australian Premiere at Sydney Film Festival. Mystify Michael Hutchence begins screening in cinemas around Australia on July 4th 2019 thanks to Madman Films.

Thursday 27th of June, 2019

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