Mystify, the Michael Hutchence story

Last night I was in a Very Bad Mood, so I went to the movies hoping it would cheer me up. I saw Mystify, the Michael Hutchence movie. It didn’t cheer me up.

I cried when I heard that Michael Hutchence died. We had just moved back to Adelaide after living in New Zealand and I was driving down Anzac Highway from our house in Parkside towards my job in Glenelg. (I was managing an Oxfam shop before it was called Oxfam). I had the radio tuned to Triple J and maybe they had a bit of an INXS tribute going on, or maybe my memory is making that up. But I do remember crying.

As a teenager, I was a fan. I had carefully prised apart the staples from Smash Hits magazine to lift the INXS poster out of the middle, sticky taping it onto the wall above my desk. I cut images of Michael Hutchence out of Dolly and wherever else I found them. I glued those pictures to the covers of my school diary and exercise books. Every word from every song on Shabooh Shoobah and The Swing was etched into my brain. I probably went to every concert they did in Adelaide from 1984 until 1990 (never knowing how lucky we were to be at Memorial Drive with only a few thousand others instead of the enormous concerts they were doing elsewhere around the world).

On the day I heard about his death, it had been many years since my infatuation with Michael Hutchence. I had long since lost the urge to immerse myself in teenage-style fandom. My tastes changed as I grew older and had more exposure to more music. And while I had always known that he lived in a sphere I had no access to, his earlier life, hanging out with Kylie Minogue, being Australian, coming from a city that wasn’t Sydney or Melbourne, had made him relatable in a certain sense. As the years passed, I felt no connection to him through music or experience. His life in London shifted him into a place for which I had no point of reference. I didn’t know who Paula Yates was, and the children’s weird names symbolised all that separated me from them.

In 1997, I had no plans to go to one of their Australian concerts. I’m not sure I even knew they were in Australia. But when I heard the news of his death, I was genuinely and deeply shocked, hit by grief. It was my first experience of feeling grief for someone I had never, and never would have, known.

I would have shared that immediate grief online if it happened now. Ten years later and I would have written a blog post, twenty and I would have commiserated on facebook. But this was 1997. All I could do was pick up the phone when I got to work and ring the mister (and then put 30 cents in the till to pay for the personal call).

I’ve felt this grief, on and off, fleetingly over the years. ‘What a pity,’ I would sometimes think when I heard the music I loved. ‘What a tragedy,’ I would think in later years when I was coming to understand how awful it must really be for those girls, later women. I don’t kid myself that it’s a selfless grief. It’s a grief for my own life too, for the promise of youth that has long since disappeared. INXS’s music grounds me in a time that I now understand was one of deep security, when I lived in a house with two parents whose job was to care for me (how imperfectly they did this, because goodness me, if you knew what I know about myself as a parent right now you’d forgive my parents all their flaws too).

I only went to see Mystify last night because I needed to get out of the house (see above re parenting for a hint). Looking through the films available at my closest cinemas, Mystify was by far the best option. I want to go and see Yesterday with the mister and none of the other school holiday fare available at my closest cinemas was appealing. And I’d heard Jason di Rosso’s review on RN Breakfast that morning, vaguely registering it as another something I’d probably never get around to seeing. I wasn’t really listening to his review, so I didn’t know exactly what it was about. All I knew was that I was in a foul mood and I needed cheering up. Ha! This is not the movie to cheer a person up, but I’m so glad I went.

I’m sure all of the reviews will talk about the film’s intimacy until the word becomes over-used, but it’s impossible not to describe it that way. With footage shot by friends and often by Michael Hutchence, it feels extraordinarily personal. I perhaps would like to have the seen the faces of people as they were being interviewed, but maybe that would have changed the film too much.

There were two especially heartbreaking, heart-yearning segments of the film for me. Kylie Minogue’s and Rhett Hutchence’s. I felt my understanding of my early adulthood shift as I listened to Kylie Minogue describe their relationship. I’m sorry for the way my propensity to judge – be judgemental – during those years limited so much of my own and other’s experiences.

And then, of course, the core of the film, the revelation of his brain injury and its likely impact on him. Heartbreaking. There is no other word.

A lot of retro celebrity watching or watching of celebrity vintage is about being disappointed in the men we used to adore. There is a sinking feeling as the news headlines emerge of sexual assault on a film set, or backstage after a show, or whatever other form it takes. Disappointment is a mild term for it of course. It’s much more than that. Women of my age, who were teenagers in the eighties, joining the workforce in the nineties never doubt the stories that we hear about harassment or assault. I don’t have to list them for you … I’m sure you’ve got your own list of actors, rock stars, athletes you wish you’d never pinned to your walls. I didn’t feel that way walking out of Mystify. I felt far more moved than I had expected to be. I read a review in The Guardian that said this is ‘mainly for the fans’ and perhaps that is true. But this fan is grateful for an opportunity to re-visit her teenage fandom with a compassionate eye and a renewed sense of connection, not only to her idol but to her teenage self.