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Mystify Q&A with director Richard Lowenstein and INXS record producer Chris Thomas

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So this is an amazing feat of journalism but as well as being great journalistic exercise. It also seems to deliberately readdress how we see Michael Hutchence. And what was the original purpose of the film? The purpose of the film was, first and foremost, to put an authentic record down of initially the person I knew. And I didn't recognize anything that I saw in the media, old or new media of the person I actually knew. But really, it was bigger than that. It was just to, you know, he's an important figure in musical history, not only Australian musical history, but international musical history. And I just felt, you know, I owed him an authentic portrayal. And, you know, I waited 20 years after her died and expecting someone else to do it or, you know, 'cause of that I was too close and all those normal things. You know, me and few of his close friends basically said, "I think it's time that we try to do something." And when I say close friends, it's the girlfriend, Michèle Bennett, who'd never spoken before, people like Helena and... So I sort of embarked on this thing to actually get the real story out. And we also knew that what was left in the media wasn't necessarily the full thing. Especially because of Michèle Bennett being on the phone with him 20 minutes before, you know, he was supposedly passed away. You know, he was crying on the phone, rings her, she's in transit to go see him, and then he doesn't open the hotel room door. So especially the big rumor of rhotacism just seemed to have a lot of problems for me. I got to admit, a lot of other people found that a very easy solution to what the hell happened. - Don't you think? - I think that's true. In fact, I must admit, I thought that at the time. I thought that might have been what happened. And it was interesting to see the film. It wasn't just because of the sort of, you know, just because of what happened in Copenhagen either, you can really see that's he became trapped. And that was very sad to witness, in fact, and he really did get quite, you know, he was really sort of stuck. But I also had the additional benefit, you know, in the area what you're discussing about journalism that I actually worked with him just before that accident and just after the accident. So I didn't see what the world might have been interpreting as a decline into rock and roll ego and all that sort of, you know, short-tempered bullshit. I actually saw someone who changed really suddenly as the band members did. And I think by that stage you stopped working with him. Yes, that's true. That's true. I mean, I saw him a bit after that just sort of like socially. I saw him in Paris when he was over there with Helena. And yeah, I mean like, yeah, that changed. So you were aware of the accident and also you were aware of how it affected him? I certainly was aware of the repercussions of the accident as far as the symptoms of what I could see. - Right. - He told me... He arrived in Melbourne about six weeks after the accident. After finishing Full Moon, Dirty Hearts that album, and we did like 10 videos. We did a whole video album, so he was there for a while. So he tells me about the accident and says, "I'm all fine though, but I have lost my sense of taste and smell." Then it was at a late night party in the hotel room, then he starts crying and kind of actually falls in my lap sort of bawling, okay? And he was also was incredibly difficult at that time. And this was not like the Michael three months earlier. Sure. To have a normal conversation with 'cause everything was chopping and changing. So I sort of knew that this is something had happened. I did not have any inkling of what really, you know, the damage that really happened. But I knew the loss of taste was very important. And the loss of taste and smell was very important to him. This seems to be the sort of the smoking gun of the movie. But how many people actually knew that he lost his sense of taste and smell and also that there was some kind of degenerative brain issue. Nobody knew about the brain issue. But he did tell a lot of his close friends about the loss of smell. And so that basically boils down... Well, that's a psychological problem. And yes, it can make you depressed and everything. But the whole traumatic head injury, traumatic brain injury thing didn't actually come out until we found the full autopsy report. And we also interviewed Helene who for the first time ever, basically spilled the beans of what really happened and the hospital visit afterwards, and the MRI or it would have been a CT scan back then, that she was a witness to. And Michael swore her to secrecy, especially about the CT scan and the accident. So he's sort of "press release" if you like was that, "I've had a bump on the head. I've lost my sense of taste and smell." As you see in the movie it says, "You know, but I'm better now. It's actually shaken me up. And in fact, it's been a good thing, but it wasn't a good thing at all." So in a way this awful fact became a sort of happy accident that this is something you discovered whilst you were making the movie. Absolutely. And I am... Yeah. I don't know if it was a happy accident because I was going into the movie and did an extraordinary amount of research on the psychological repercussions of the loss of taste and smell, smell in particular. And so that was my thesis, it's like, you know, you take away from Michael the things that he loved the most. Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Like the taste of an oyster, the taste of his girlfriend, the smell of his newborn baby. And you take that away from the man who pretty much lived for his sensual pleasures rather than... I mean, wouldn't you say that rather than a rock star that, you know, was into accumulating wealth and hundreds of... Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. He was interested in so many things. And yeah, that was there the sensual side was pretty much. Yeah, that was his big reward of being a rock star not the big mansion on... We live in the... Like, "I can live life. I can go to these extraordinary restaurants and live life to the fullest." And you see that even in the that footage with Kylie and Michael going into the cherry orchid and, you know, he's just like, he's holding the camera and you can see from where he's pointing it at her bum and then the cherry tree and, like it's just living for those sensual pleasures. And then, you know, Zeus comes along with a lightning bolt and takes really what he lives for away from him. So that was my thesis. So the whole, you know, four repercussions of the accident was a quite a shock halfway through the editing. Sure. And then we had to go back and reedit the film because it suddenly now it's a new story. How easy was it to make the film? Did you have buy-in from the band, from management, from family? It was one of the most extraordinary difficult things I've ever had. You'd think that everyone was together on the same, you know, wanting the same thing 'cause there's a brother, there's a sister Tina, there's band, there's management, there's this Tiger, his daughter, there's the close friend, the girlfriends whose cooperation was crucial. You think that would be easy everyone's, but no. - It was... - So what happened? There was number of things that happened. At one stage there was another documentary being made by a commercial TV channel in Australia and that suddenly everyone, even my investors started saying, "Why are we making this one when Channel Seven are going to do one?" And then the thing that really stopped us though was that for about a year, and I think at last count it was 35 contracts. We tried to negotiate with the band management and the record company UMG. And I got to say UMG were fine in understanding, but they are in this joint venture with band management. The band management went through 35 contracts to try and work out how they could work with us. And, you know, the band manager tried to employ me as a paid employee, he tried everything, "I'd take all the money." And at the end of the day, I didn't care about that. I just wanted creative right of final cut, creative control. So I could tell the story I wanted to tell and not have the film just turn into a way of selling in INXS back catalogue. And on the 35 contract, we get a phone call, and the phone call says, you know, Chris wants to write a final cut. Chris Murphy, this is Chris Thomas. And we just, you know, our producer Mr. Battsek just laughed, and I laughed. And the BBC, the Screen Australia, they would all fled the building. So it just was not possible, plus it wasn't possible as a filmmaker. So we actually spend about a year of editing without INXS music. Wow. That must have been incredibly difficult. Almost impossible. It was impossible to give the full picture, but you still got the story. And we'd already discovered the Helena, you know, singing and we had them. Yeah. We'd had the autopsy, the full, never before seen autopsy report. So how did you eventually get rights to use the music? Well, we made this film which is very different to the film you now see and we edited anyway in a rough cut. And then part of my agreement with people was that I didn't want Tiger or Bob to be panicky about what this film had or how it was going to treat Paula and everything. So it was sort of high on my agenda to show Tiger and to show her so that she could just... Tiger is Michael's daughter. And so that she can relax about the portrayal of their mother and be confident and then see if she likes it or not. So we traveled to London, we arranged, we sat down in a room and shown Tiger on my laptop, and she seemed very moved by it. And but the one thing she said at the end was, you know, "It's great, but it needs my dad's music." And I don't know how I can help, but how can I help? And I said, "Well, I'm not quite sure that, you know, actually how much power you may have but so let's... Why don't you write an email to the record company, band management, and band members?" And she said, "Sure, I'm happy to do that." And she wrote this fantastic email that was in her own voice and sent it off. And literally 24 hours later, we get an email back from UMG and saying that, "You know, how many songs do you want?" And it was nine. We wanted nine songs. Nine songs we can have for quite a reasonable rate and all the music came in. And then of course, we had to go back and start re-editing again. Yeah, I think the editing period was like 1.5 years in total. So it sounds to me that the film has been edited at least three completely different ways. Yes, yes. It has been. Yes. And there was always screenings and discussions and we have so many different parties involved Dogwoof and Passion Pictures and Mr. Battsek. And all the notes would come in and, you know, especially to the version without music, and I got to say a lot of people were very supportive to the no music. You know, there's still a film there without the music, but hoping, you know, that something will change and... But it seemed almost impossible. It seemed like we're just going to have to accept that we're going to make this film without the music until that Tiger incident happened, and she gets a big upfront credit. Thank you credit at the end. So, Chris, like Richard, you knew Michael very well. How close is the film you just seen to the original film that you thought of? What's the distance between them? Do you mean between the original film? Yeah, I mean, the idea, the original idea that you had and the resulting film. I think that's a bit of a difficult one actually, to be honest. You have been numb when you first saw it. When I saw it, yes, absolutely. Well, the first thing that happened when I was watching it was I immediately thought that Michael was going to come down and sit next to us. I mean, it was amazing how alive he was. And then of course, then you saw, you know... I was really surprised about what happened and how that, you know, how that happened. And it was emotionally pretty tough to see once he goes sort of, you know? It's an extraordinary journey even for someone who knew him in a very, very small way to see someone who was so full of life. Yes. An extraordinary decline and the amazing back story behind. It must have been quite an emotional journey for both of you. The change in him was radical because as Richard said, I didn't really see him very much in that period after Copenhagen. So when I saw him, it was... I saw him in France, which is about, yeah, after he had Tiger. And he was obviously really, really, you know, really in love with her. But then I saw them play for the last time in London. It wasn't the same guy. It wasn't the same guy. I just couldn't work out what had happened. And you can see that in when you go through the live performances. You can see, you know, there's a concert we discovered the rushes of '94 in Brixton, which is after the accident. And then you look at Wembley Stadium, which was before accident, and it's a very different Michael. I mean, he's still putting on a good show but there's something not quite there. He's missing something that's not there. Yeah. Absolutely. And yeah, I mean it was... I find it more emotional having to watch the film again and again because it's my friend and then you might have had the same reaction. My friend who, you know, you see young and grow up, and then in two hours or something. Whereas when I was editing it, I'm just focusing on, oh, this is, you know, the early days of the band or this is Michael and Kylie. And you just focus on that bit, and he's alive, and, you know, he's not getting old. And that's fine. But yeah, it's been doing my head in just having to watch it all the time. How many people associated with Michael have seen the film now? - You mean the people... - Like the band, manager... Oh, yeah, pretty much everyone that I interviewed which is over 50. But the band I've seen... And I interviewed them all. I don't know if our friend Chris Murphy who I... - Manager, yeah. - Actually seen it. But most people have seen. I have had no big complaints but then they wouldn't tell me about the complaint but a lot of... - Timmy wrote to me. - Yeah. - He was impressive. - Yeah. Yeah. And Michèle Bennett, who was the first long-term girlfriend, I haven't heard from Helena. Kylie loved what she saw. I don't think she's seen the full thing, but she's seen her section, and she didn't change. You know, everyone had a little clause in their contract. You know, if something they don't like is always out of context or anything 'cause I'm well aware you can take someone's interview and you can, as an editor, you can put it out of context, you can exaggerate things. And Helena had that. Helena was very nervous about how her voice would be used. But she, you know, god bless her, didn't change anything either. So... I mean, the film seems to come from a place of love. It's a very benevolent film. And obviously you're being incredibly respectful not just for Michael but pretty much everyone involved. You said earlier that you were kind of waiting for someone else to make this film when they didn't? - Yes. - What took you so long? Well, I was... I kind of waiting... You know, to actually... Because I felt I was too close or I got to say it's a little bit disingenuous because I knew I had the bulk of the footage in my attic. I knew that whoever would make a documentary on Michael would need what I had in my attic. And a few people did try but not people that I kind of respected all that very well as documentary filmmakers. But the genesis of the project really it started as a drama script, you know? I started going... Well, let's do a biopic. Let's get an actor and, you know, like the miniseries, but as a feature film and that's where my background was in drama. But I sort of lost, I lost enthusiasm for that relatively quickly mainly because I kept having discussions with people whether it's in Hollywood or producers or who would play Michael, you know? So there's the usual suspects come out the Brad Pitt and the Leonardo and it just goes. Now when you're looking at their films and you go no one has that just sort of relaxed charm, you know, it's a very hard thing to imitate that sort of charisma. Yeah, exactly, exactly. And, you know, I went towards some Irish actors who seemed to have it in their DNA, you know, that sort of that impish charm. But it was very different to the Michael. So, you know, I ended up I wanted to structure a drama like story but with Michael himself. And then that's how you go back to the archive and that was the deliberate choice not to use talking heads or anything like that. And also, the main reason why I didn't use talking heads was I wanted to go on a time traveling journey sort of back there, but not have to keep coming forward in time to 2019 where you're seeing the band, you know, in current day or you're seeing Kylie sitting there now and people sort of comparing older informants with younger informants and things like that. I just didn't want that distraction. So I just... The voices don't age, you know? Kylie's voice has an age, sort of having the right, her own footage, and you go back there and Michael's filming a lot of that footage. So you go back there in time, and you sort of go on the journey with him. Apart from the new narrative, the sort of smoking gun discovery, do you think that this film will change the way that the people think about Michael Hutchence? Well, I hope so, but not in the sort of the obvious, as you said smoking-gun way. I hope it just, you know, one of the greatest things that Michael wanted was respect as a musician. And he did get, you know, basically in the early days, he did get sort of a little bit misled into being a pretty boy band, you know? And they were all quite attractive guys, you know, back in the in the early '80s. And so it was sort of I think they got a lot of flak for being, you know, these six guys who are all cute. And he definitely did the whole long-haired sort of sex god thing, until he got, you know really jack of it, really sick of it. And basically cut his hair off and did the Max Q thing. But part of his search for sort of satisfaction and meaning was to be respected. And that's what I hope, you know, that the document actually enables audiences not just to say, "Oh, he was some loose rock star." You know, who stole Bob's partner and, you know, corrupted out Kylie, and all that sort of stuff that he was actually given the respect if not as a composer, but as, you know, a vocalist and a performer. - He was a writer. - Yeah. He was a writer. And I think that's one element that's been completely overlooked in the sense that Andrew would write a lot of backing tracks, for instance, quite often. And more often than not, it was Michael actually wrote the top line, wrote the melody, and the lyrics. And I think that was kind of glossed over quite a lot in his career. He was misrepresented in the end as being a sort of, you know, typical sort of rock star behavior, the whole sort of like, thing about it, you know, the tabloid side of it. And I think that's what was great about what Richard did. Richard and he were friends. So Richard known him all the way through his, you know, pretty well all through his career. So what the film manages to do is to actually show Michael as he really was rather than some, you know, somebody else's idea of him. You certainly get the sense that there is someone who really cares about their craft. He wants the recognition of its peers, but someone who is dedicated to the music as well as having the ability to be a great performer and relates to people. Oh, yes, he was tremendously honest. I mean, the very, very first time that I ever worked with him. He was the first guy in the... When I got to the studio, he was there. Now on the first day, we had to put the drums up, do the whole thing. It wasn't going to be, you know, singers not going to be doing anything. He was there. He was always the first one to arrive, always the last one to leave. He was the one that really sort of knew what he wanted to achieve from the whole thing. But also, easy to forget I think, which is one of the great things about the film. You're reminded about what an extraordinary performer he was. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Amazing performer. Absolutely. Yeah. And that's where you could see and that was the thing also later on, where that big change had happened. What was the biggest manifestation of the illness and how had his stage persona changed? I think it was something in the eyes and there was a mask like quality in his face. And, you know, the psychologists and the neurologists told me that was actually... And you combine that with the loss of smell, which is very connected to emotions that you actually... There's like a disconnect. It's like you're actually in a movie and rather than real life. Because you can't smell your surrounds or anything. So you actually a little bit in a bubble. I think it's mentioned in the film like you're in outer space. And I get that sort of glazed look, you know, and there was a lot of tiredness on stage rather than the amazing energy, you know? And he's only like 32, 33 at that point. And so it did seem to be this disconnection or something that's incredibly important for a musician, especially when they've got cameras on them and everything to actually feel their lyrics and feel their emotions and everything. Where is... Yeah, the disconnection I think is very obvious. Yeah. And you could see it in the interviews, and we would be going through and our editors. We had three editors. They're going, "He's not quite connecting this interview but this one's great," you know? And it will always tend to be before or after the accident. - That's amazing. - Yeah. The film for me seems to do two things. It seems, you've turned his life very eloquently into a great tragedy, but also you've managed to elevate him in the sort of pantheon of great rock stars. Well, I don't mean to do that and misrepresent to do. So I don't mean to do that by, you know, falsifying, enhancing anything. But yeah, you know, having been on the side of the stage and worked with people like U2, and Pete Townshend and being on the, as I said the side of the stage with Michael and INXS filming, being dragged on the stage by him. And, you know, I think I filmed about five of their concerts with multi-cams and everything. I was sort of... And I wasn't a fan to begin with, but I was left going, "This is one of the, you know, well, sort of great performance." And it's not, you know? And there was comparisons early on with Jagger and Jim Morrison. But he sort of took those things and made it his own. Yeah. You know, he created a kind of essential version of a Jim Morrison sort of thing that and would spike very much of the '80s of that sort of hedonistic pleasures of the '80s. And yeah, I mean, I do seriously believe that. I think he was, you know... I know he was very distressed in the early years that, you know, the British press, like the enemy and they wouldn't actually give them any credit. When, you know, I mean, they're arguably as good if not better than bands like Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, but they would get rave reviews but INXS would be called, you know, dirty diggers or sort of dingo rock or something. You know, it was just ridiculous what the enemy would write about them and so and then the British tabloids later on and everything. So he really did want that. I mean, we all looked in Australia to the British music press as the icons of, you know, approval. And they really had the knives out for INXS, and he just wanted to win the day in that battle and playing Wembley with 70,000 people, I think was, you know, he kind of won. He got acceptance in Britain finally. And it was one his, you know, he used to tell me it was one of his greatest performances and the one he enjoyed most of all, you know? Well, you certainly done him justice in the film, but how do you expect people to or how would you like people to feel when they leave the cinema or having seen it? Well, I made the film not necessarily for INXS fans. I made the film for people who may not have ever heard of Michael Hutchence. So, you know, I'm kind of thrilled when I hear people say, you know, I had no idea that he was that kind of performer or that kind of musician or, you know, that he was actually... So yeah, I'm totally thrilled when it sort of... If the film does make you realize that this was one serious rock performer who deserves to be in the halls of fame or up there with the other greats, you know? - Sure. - So I don't know. How about you? I think it's really great that finally there's a really sort of true portrait of what he was like. I mean, that's the main thing rather than this sort of the facade that you sort of get. Because he was, you know, he was somebody very special. He was a really great guy. He's a fantastic guy to work with. You know, I mean, everybody who knew him used to love him. And I think that comes across, which is, you know, the best thing about it. Final question for you both. What's your fondest memory of Michael? - I've got one. - I've got one. My fondest memory was when we did the first video in 1984. And I already made a feature film which is due to show at the Cannes Film Festival. And so we filmed the first half of the video in Mackay, in northern Queensland. Second half was to be filmed in London but in between INXS been playing in Nice next to Cannes. So Michael and me made up, I see the show. He spends the night partying with me... Going to all the film bars and things. And then the following morning, the two of us was trying to pick him up in these narrow streets and get stuck somewhere. And I have to go off to a meeting, and I leave him on the steps of the Australian Film Commission, basking in the sun. And one of our great film reviewers, a guy called David Stratton, walks by and drops a coin into his outstretched hand. Michael opens his eyes and he called to that mate. He said, "Thanks, mate. I need that." And the week before he got to be number one in France. And David Stratton obviously didn't know, so it was like that sort of epitomizes Michael to me. I haven't got any particular anecdote, not one that particularly sticks out. There's one that I probably still want the answer to. And that's what really happened when he was climbing up the Siebel townhouse wall to get into my room. That's for another film. I do have another story actually, that was, I wasn't a witness to this time, but he did... This Michèle Bennett told me he was climbing up. It was during may be his Kylie period, but he was drunk one night, and he was trying to climb into Michèle's bedroom window in a Paddington terrace house. And he got the house wrong. So you obviously had a career as an openness. - Yes. - We didn't realize. And he gets the house wrong and someone calls the police and said the police come along and put the search light on, and he's up there on the wrong house. And they get him off, they take him back to the police station. And Michael famously never had $0.1 in his pockets, you know? He is like lucky to have a credit card, but he never even had that. And so they take him back and they run his name through the computer. And then discovered he is got about 10 fines for Harley Davidson speeding in Australia. And but he's got no money. Then the sergeant says, "You know, I have to... You know, I can't let you go without paying these fines." So he takes out the one note he had in his pocket, which was a Hong Kong one cent note. That was only on one side and he writes, "Dear, New South Wales Police Department, I owe you $1,000 fine." And then police men contacted me and he still has that note, you know? But apparently Michael was in the foyer of the Kings Cross police station at like 4:00 in the morning, signing autographs for everybody and all the, you know, but that was, yeah, quite a classical Michael story. Well, thank you guys. Congratulations. It's a tremendous film. I'm sure it's going to do incredibly well. Thank you. Thanks a lot. Great interview.

Video Details

Duration: 32 minutes and 9 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
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Views: 25
Posted by: bendobson on Jan 15, 2020

Mystify Q&A with director Richard Lowenstein and INXS record producer Chris Thomas - HD2

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