Hedwig And The Angry Inch

on July 20, 2001 by Annlee Ellingson
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   Based on his off-Broadway stage play, John Cameron Mitchell's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is a rock opera about would-be rock star Hedwig (Mitchell) and his band called The Angry Inch. Relegated to performing throughout the country in chain restaurants, Hedwig, decked out in a Farrah Fawcett wig and Tammy Faye make-up, is in the midst of a lawsuit alleging that heartthrob Tommy Gnossis' album of hits are songs he and Hedwig wrote together when they were lovers.

   Hedwig's titillating performances--some of the elderly men in the audience get a kick out of his shenanigans but most are disgusted and leave--are a combination of philosophical musings and a history of his life told through flashback. For example, one ballad, accompanied by enchanting animation by Emily Hubley, tells a beautiful myth about how human beings used to be physically paired--some men with men, some women with women and some men with women--but Zeus used a lightning bolt to split them in two, so now we spend our lives searching for our other half.

   Hedwig thought he had found his other half when he was a young East Berliner named Hansel and fell in love with an American G.I. In order to get past the Berlin Wall, however, the two had to marry, and thus Hansel had to literally leave a part of himself behind. The surgery was botched, thus the inspiration for the name of his band.

   Sadly, the relationship didn't last, and Hedwig was abandoned on the very day the Berlin Wall was torn down. Taking babysitting gigs while performing on the side with an early version of The Angry Inch made up of Korean housewives from the nearby military base, Hedwig met and fell in love with a young evangelist, on whom Hedwig bestows the stage name Tommy Gnossis. Despite his admiration for his lover, Tommy is disgusted by him, too, and the two part ways, but not before they've written an album of what would become hit songs together.

   So now Hedwig is chasing Tommy around the country, trying to snatch a photo with him to prove that they know each other, much to the chagrin of his current husband and band mate, who opts to audition for a role in "Rent's" cruise-ship tour of Polynesia and Guam.

   All of these men are beautiful, with or without their make-up and wigs, and Mitchell is even more striking when he's stripped of all of his accoutrements. Having gained closure from his relationship with Tommy, he walks out of the final frame, naked and vulnerable yet finally at peace.

   As noted in the press when this project was announced, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is an interesting choice to adapt for the bigscreen, but, even with its rather dire subject matter, its silly humor--like Hedwig as a boy having to listen to David Bowie and Iggy Pop with his head in the oven--is fun, and the tunes are catchy to the point that when Hedwig looks into the camera and says, "Everybody!" and a bouncing ball helps with the lyrics, even some of the so-called cynical critics at a press screening sang along. Given that, "Hedwig" has the potential to reach "Rocky Horror Picture Show" cult status. Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Andrea Martin, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor and Alberta Watson. Directed and written by John Cameron Mitchell. Produced by Christine Vachon, Katie Roumel and Pamela Koffler. A Fine Line release. Musical. Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 95 min

Tags: John Cameron Mitchell, Andrea Martin, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Alberta Watson, Directed and written by John Cameron Mitchell, Produced by Christine Vachon, Katie Roumel, Pamela Koffler, A Fine Line release, Musical, make-up, wigs, relationship, peace, Berlin
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