Saturday, June 11, 2011
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
John Cameron Mitchell, 2001
Starring: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Michael Pitt
Hedwig is one of those films I've seen over and over in the last eight years and it always surprises me when I meet people who haven't yet seen it. I recently re-watched it and decided I owed the film a glowing review, just in case another of those late-to-the-game stragglers was reading.
Based on the very successful Off Broadway musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is basically the Rocky Horror of the decade. Transsexual East German Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) tours the US singing songs about her trials in life and love. After undergoing a botched sex change operation to escape East Berlin with her American Army husband, she goes through a divorce, struggles to make ends meet, and starts a band. After writing a number of beautiful rock/punk songs, they are stolen by her reluctant teenage lover Tommy, who goes on to be an internationally famous rock star. She responds by touring with her band, the Angry Inch, made up of Eastern European rockers and her spouse, a downtrodden transgendered (this time female to male) back up vocalist. Hedwig spirals out of control but eventually learns some importance lessons about love, identity, and sexuality.
The story is imaginative, the songs are catchy, and John Cameron Mitchell is fantastic. I think the film benefited greatly from the play's long development process, which usually occurred during live performances. It received a lot of critical praise and won a number of important awards, particularly at Sundance, but didn't do well commercially. Big surprise. Middle America doesn't seem to understand transsexuality... or modern musicals.
Though not perfect by any means, the visual world of the film is charming and daring. It literally bursts with color and creativity and makes an acceptable metamorphosis from stage to screen. The costumes and sets are beautiful, as well as the transitions from dialogue to song. The only thing I have a real problem with are the drawings and animations occasionally used to explain back-story. I understand it is difficult to convey the realm of abstract emotional imagination in film, but doing it with drawings feels cheap and unfulfilled (I'm looking at you too, Julie Taymor). The most wonderful scenes of the film are when Hedwig's character addresses the audience directly -- these are moments of wit, humor, and pathos.
Hedwig comes highly recommended. The version I'm reviewing is the single disc New Line Platinum release, which comes with a few tasty special features like deleted scenes and a documentary. I have yet to see Mitchell's last film, Short Bus, though I'm very much looking forward to it, as well as his newest project Rabbit Hole, which bizarrely stars Nicole Kidman.