Friday, January 12, 2007

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Movie name: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Year of release: 2001
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Andrea Martin, Alberta Watson
Genre: Indie/Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the off Broadway smash hit play, got a great stage to film transition, mostly due to it’s star and creator John Cameron Mitchell, that infuses the film with an energy and humor absolutely contagious and delirious.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch started as an off Broadway show, that built momentum and an increasingly larger audience, most of it based on the balance of John Cameron Mitchell’s performance and Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics. Self described as a rock/punk musical, the performance outgrew any of the expectations that the original investors had in the play, which went on to have other actors playing the iconographic Hedwig Schmidt, namely Ally Sheedy and Donovan Leitch to name but a few. When it was thought of a filmic version of the play, John Cameron Mitchell was sought out to make it possible, which he eventually did, through the prep labs of the Sundance Film Festival (at one point, Tom Kalin, the director of “Swoon” was considered as a co-director). With a tight budget and a short filming span, John Cameron Mitchell ended up with the responsibility of directing and writing the adaptation of the play – he succeeded in his efforts, since the film went on to win the Audience and Director awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and he got a nomination for a Golden Globe.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” follows the story of Hansel, a small german boy, whose father is an American GI. Hansel is brought up by his mother, in a tiny apartment located in the former Communist Germany. While in Germany he meets an American sergeant who wants to marry him – and get him out of the country. In order to do so, Hansel has to go through a sex change operation, that doesn’t go very well (leaving him with the “angry inch”). In the US, Hedwig (after taking the name of his mother), sees himself alone, and has to resort to babysitting gigs to survive. In one of those he meets young Tommy “Gnosis” Speck, who becomes a fan of Hedwig’s songs. Eventually Tommy steals Hedwig’s songs and compositions, and achieves worldwide recognition, something that Hedwig tries desperately to recapture for himself.
This short summary serves to present the main points to the story, but in this film’s case, all that “soap opera” scenario, serves as a backdrop to John Cameron Mitchell’s canvas, which he fills with rock music, his terrific stage persona and totally outrageous wigs. The film works on so many different levels, mostly because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. It’s filled with a great sense of humor, most of which can be found in the premise of Hedwig’s story, but it also has a true and heartfelt emotional core to it – the search for happiness and love (“his other half”, as he points out during the film), no matter who you are. Hedwig is ultimately a romantic character that longs to be loved and saved, and he sees that possibility in Michael Pitt’s Tommy Gnosis, who in a way is everything that Hedwig ever wanted to be. The film has moments of sheer delight, with the small animations that complement the story, or the karaoke moment where the audience is literally invited to sing along the tune. These are precious moments, in a film where you can see the limitations of the budget, and what that generates in terms of creativity on the filmmaker’s part. The supporting cast is all wonderful, particularly Andrea Martin as Phyllis the band’s agent and Miriam Shor as Yitzak, however John Cameron Mitchell dominates the screen with his incredible performance, one that stays with you even after the film is concluded. His performance balances the exuberance that Hedwig has, with the heartfelt longing that Hansel still feels.
Cult status is something that fits this film, but it’s intelligence and artistry deserve a vaster audience.