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 Hedwig and the Angry Inch
John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig

Almost a Glam Slam: Hedwig and the Angry Inch Movie Review by Spyder Darling

You'll laugh, you'll cry; it's better than Josie and the Pussycats! Of course, that's not saying much. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a glitter-rock musical melodrama from Killer Films, the same production company that churned out such gender blenders as Boys Don't Cry and Velvet Goldmine. This latest film comes courtesy of writer/director/actor/singer and sinfully skinny John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig).

For those not up on their he/she cabaret history, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is based on the Off-Broadway production of the same name that was also written by and starred John Cameron Mitchell. The music was skillfully scribed by Stephen Trask, who also stars as musician Skszp. Allegedly, the whole she-male shebang was inspired by a naughty nanny Mitchell knew when he was a teenager in Kansas.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Stephen Trask as Skszp
 
From Broadway to Blockbuster, Hedwig's saga is still the sordid story of a girlish German boy, half Hansel half Gretel, from an abusive home, who has his penis cut off so he can pass as a girl to marry an American G.I. (Maurice Dean Wint) and escape communist Berlin. Shortly after the kinky couple gets settled in their trailer in Junction City, Kansas, Hedwig's soldier boy runs off with a younger lad, leaving Hedwig alone with an "angry inch" where his sex pistol used to hang. Forced to take odd jobs, "mostly of the blow variety," Hedwig gets a gig babysitting for another military man, this one with a toddler and a teenage son Tommy (Michael Pitt). When not changing diapers, Hedwig weans Tommy off classic rock bands like Boston, Europe, Asia, and Kansas. "Please, travel exhausts me," Hedwig begs as he turns the boy onto rock 'n' roll's unholy trinity of Lou, David and Iggy. And into a Robert Smith-styled rock star named Tommy Gnosis, who, once famous,
 Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Miriam Shor as Yitzak
disavows any knowledge of Hedwig and claims sole ownership of the songs they wrote together. Hedwig also puts together a band, but is left to follow Tommy Gnosis's American tour, getting by playing franchise restaurants, like the T.G.I.F. inspired Bilgewaters, hoping to catch up and settle up with his prodigal protégé. And you thought Shakespeare had written all the good plot lines.

John Cameron Mitchell made an impressive and well-received debut as Hedwig and the Angry Inch has already earned honors at Sundance and film festivals in Berlin and Seattle. The songs are true to their T-Rex roots and filmed with bitching bad taste the likes of which hasn't been seen since MTV cancelled "Headbangers Ball." But it's the pace, not the taste, that's the problem here. The movie bogs down too deep with the relationship between Hedwig and Yitzak (Miriam Shor), his back-up singer, dresser and Hedwig's all around "Man Friday, through Sunday."
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
writer/director/actor/singer
John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig
 
Having a woman play Yitzak opens another can of "what's happening here?" problems for the production. But Shor does her best, dressed like Axl Rose circa 1989, and is almost convincing in her stubble-faced masculine persona, except when she hits notes higher than even Axl would attempt in his tightest bike shorts. Unfortunately, Hedwig and Yitzak spend too much time looking into each other's eyes and not talking, as if the audience has ESP. And Hedwig's eventual reconciliation with Tommy Gnosis is as surreal and inscrutable as the stage play's finale was. Though a certain degree of knowledge, understanding and acceptance are implied, finer points of the theme go unanswered.

Maybe there's a little misunderstood boy/girl rock star in all of us. Perhaps the answer is to not question who we are and only then hope to find the missing soul who will make us whole. The film doesn't take this approach though. Rather, its moods swing maniacally from madcap Rocky Horror Show-style camp to the doldrums of dreary doe-eyed longing. And though similarities to Rocky Horror are aplenty, it's doubtful Hedwig will be knocking the cult classic from your local midnight movie marquee anytime soon. Notwithstanding several thoroughly rocking numbers and many lewd laughs, some may find Hedwig to be a "drag" by the end.

July 2001

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