Hedwig and the
Angry Inch is, amongst its many inspirations, philosophies and such, a
personification of the credo that looks can be deceiving.
The preview for this film, in my opinion, was one of the
worst that I had ever seen. It
painted the film as the story of a struggling transsexual
musician, which seemed to be mostly comedic in its portrayal.
But it is so much more.
When you first see Hedwig, the person, you may see a male,
pretending to be a female, obsessing over a young rock star, and
casting blame on his family, and the loved ones in his life.
But there is so much more.
The film is a strong, lyrical message about the search for
identity that everyone goes through in his or her lives.
With not so subtle similarities to Rocky Horror Picture
Show, Adventures of Priscilla Queen of The Desert, and most
notably, the underrated classic Pink Floyd: The Wall, Hedwig
becomes socially relevant film, whose undertones will reach inside
each and every viewer, and strike chords as glaring and noticeable
as Hedwig’s blonde mane. By
the end, you will not only understand, empathize, and sympathize
with Hedwig, but you may even discover some things about yourself
from the film’s life philosophies on finding yourself, and not
being afraid to be that person.
Hedwig is the
greatest unknown cross dressing musician that you would never have
heard of. She spends
her evenings playing small restaurants and locales, shadowing the
tour of a currently famous rock star, Tommy Gnosis, whom we begin
to suspect, has a connection to Hedwig (via song similarities and
the quietly venomous reaction to the mention of his name).
Her band, The Angry Inch, is a play on a piece of
Hedwig’s tortured past that is slowly, but masterfully unraveled
for us, through the progressions of songs and tours of a chain of
restaurants known as Bilgewaters.
From the sorrow filled tones of Origin of Love, showing the
continual search for identity that she carries consistently
through the story, to the hard driving Angry Inch, which tells of
the botched sex change operation that leaves a minor protrusion of
manhood, the songs tell the story as the story tells itself, and
we become a part of the unveiling and discovery of Hedwig’s
painful journey. Hedwig was born as Hansel, in the year of the
erection of the Berlin Wall, 1961;a fitting bit of both irony (to
the emotional wall that she has built up) and tribute (to
Roger Waters 1979 masterpiece) He was the son of a die-hard
Hitler follower and an American G.I., and grew up in an apartment
so small, he was forced to play in the oven, and learned to
appreciate the American mastery of Anne Murray, Debby Boone, and
the glam rock icons of the mid 70s. The journey continues through
the love affair, which brought him/her to the predicament of the
sex change operation, through abandonment in a small Kansas
trailer park, to where she is today, the telling of the story,
revelatory, yet progressive and intriguing, is artful biographical
and lyrical storytelling in its truest form. I love stories that
concurrently tell us things about the characters, while forging
ahead through a story that may seem a bit repetitive and tedious,
but also seems very representative of the days in Hedwig’s life.
Mitchell’s screenplay, brilliantly littered with social
commentary and emulations of self-discovery and search for
identity and placement, is balanced with the aforementioned
soundtrack with near choral perfection. Both humorous, and
telling, these examples show the painful, yet disturbingly
humorous trek, the consequences of which, Hedwig must live and
deal with daily.
was kicked out of university for giving a dissertation on German
philosophers influence on Western music, called U Kant Always Get
What you Want”
inches forward, 5 inches back (describing the botched attempt
to conform to a lovers wishes)
walk away, you’ve got to leave something behind”
“To be free one must, one must give up a part of himself”
(both used to justify said operation)
I sat in stunned
amazement and appreciation at Mitchell’s words, and felt every
bit of Hedwig’s predicament, which she never allowed to prevent
her from achieving dreams, yet seeking more; a true representation
of the glam rock movement, its soldiers and sadly, its casualties.
definitely that could easily fit in, but is also very much
inspired by, the glam-rock movement of the 70s, led by David
Bowie, the New York Dolls, and the Velvet Underground to name just
a few. It has the
spirit and energy of the performers, but also the uninhibited
brutal honesty and emotion that befell, and sometimes destroyed,
its participants. Hedwig,
the story, began as a Broadway play, and translated well from
stage to screen, it seems. Each
of the songs has a place and purpose, instead of just being wedged
in to ensure placement on a soundtrack.
It is a movie and a sound with a purpose and a goal; you
may not like Hedwig, for the choices, for the lifestyle, or for
who she is, but you are damn well going to understand how this
complex person came to be, and what she is made of, figuratively
The movie is
carried by the soul-baring performance of the story’s creator,
writer and director, German born John Cameron Mitchell, who
definitely deserves mention amongst the great performances of
2001. The stodgy
Academy may shy away from the movies subject matter and initial
appearance, but this would be a grievous oversight over one of the
most daring, emotional, and honest performances of the year.
Adding to irony of the film, is Ithzak, Hedwig's lover, played a
mustachioed Miriam Shor, yet further commentary on the films
gender bending method of delivery, but never hammered in, because
the focus is meant to be on who the characters are on the
inside. The rest of the cast may seem unfamiliar, save SCTV alumnus
Andrea Martin, changing gears to play Hedwig’s faithful
enthusiastic manager. The remainder of the cast, made up of
virtual unknowns, including Michael Pitt (no relation to Brad I
do not believe) as Gnosis, become the passing chords and
notes, in the sad, triumphant, but impossible not to watch and
listen to, story of an international unknown.
Hedwig and The Angry Inch, is an instant modern classic, a journey
of self discovery clad in powder blue irony and platinum blonde
decadence. There are two sides to every person, and the
movie shows one person's divided world, and the attempt to unify,
while finding themselves. Hedwig's world is a world
divided. Born in the year the Berlin was erected,
half-German, half American, half man, half woman, dumped by her
creator on the day of the Wall's destruction, the movie is filled
with underlying messages and social commentary that become amazing
revelatory and wise upon further reflection on the film. I
think this film works, because if you look at it closely enough,
we can all see a little bit of our selves in Hedwig. Forget
the homosexual, transsexual phobias, because those are irrellevant
to the film's overall message.
We all, whether we admit or not, seek to find our place,
our purpose, in this crazy, confusing, ungiving, seemingly
uncaring world. Hedwig
appears to stroll through life with a confidence, and a voice and
eyes that seem to reflect a deeper conflict.
She could be a representation of anyone, who has ever
questioned and wondered why they are who they are, and how they
came to be that way. Mitchell’s
cinematic gem may touch some chords that make some uneasy or
uncomfortable, but I ask you to look past the make-up, the cross
dressing, the homosexual undertones, and see the true messages
about life that this film has to offer. If the Academy can see
past these, then the screenplay, Mitchell's performance, and any
It may make you question, rethink, or even modify your life; it
may muddle the clear, and clarify the muddled, but if you let it,
may make you understand more about yourself, and those who you may
not normally give a passing glance to on the street. Few films have done this, with unexpected depth and honesty
as this one does. First
appearances may make you think one thing, but looking closer, will
reveal more than most care to see, but definitely should.
Ironically, that credo applies to this film as well.
Meet Hedwig, and find yourself in her words, in her story,
and in the emotions that her story brings out in you. ($$$$
out of $$$$$)
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