Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Release date: July 20, 2001
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Play by: John Cameron Mitchell, Stephen Trask
Screenplay by: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Stephen Trask, Theodore Liscinski, Rob Campbell, Michael Aronov, Miriam Shor, Alberta Watson, Andrea Martin, Maurice Dean Wint, Sook-Yin Lee
And if you’ve got no other choice,
You know you can follow my voice
Through the dark turns and noise
Of this wicked little town
These are the words to one of the most meaningful songs in John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig & the Angry Inch, a wild and emotionally charged musical feature about a person scorned by the choices that life and love have presented them.
The story of Hedwig (Mitchell) is told through her eyes only, each song providing a glimpse into the life that led this performer to the place she’s at now. Once a young German boy named Hansel, Hedwig fell in love with an American soldier and underwent a sex-change operation to marry him and move to the US. As described in the song Angry Inch, the surgery was botched and Hansel was left feeling neither a man nor woman.
Being left high and dry by the soldier post-surgery, Hedwig chooses to settle down in the role of a woman. After picking herself back up she tours the nation with her band, following around another who once loved her: Tommy Gnosis (Pitt), a boy who became a star and left with all her songs.
Hedwig’s story is presented almost entirely through flashbacks as she tours through restaurants of all sorts, and Mitchell goes crazy in the way he presents these flashbacks. Each of Stephen Trask’s wonderfully written songs tells of a different part of Hedwig’s life – some tender, some harsh, and some plain amusing – but it is all for the sake of looking back on the woman she’s become. They’re presented in a colorful whirl of music and dance in both present and past, climaxing with an almost surreal performance that truly forces Hedwig to face who they really are. Self-identity is important to Hedwig, and it’s clear that it’s something that’s just as important to John Cameron Mitchell, who clearly dives into the role with nothing but love for this broken character.
For all the rock star attitude, Hedwig is, ultimately, a scarred person both physically and emotionally. Life has been wicked to her from the very start, and Hedwig believes that each turn has left her more mangled than the last. There was never a true moment that the boy named Hansel truly showed a longing to become a woman, but the was the card that was deal to her, and she must go forward with life. It’s not the sort of story one likes to hear, but it reflects the reality that most of the LGBT community can’t escape the cards they’ve been dealt, no matter how much easier it might seem to be a perfect heterosexual cisgender individual. Caught between the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity, Hedwig settles into what’s easiest, because that’s what Mitchell feels a person as broken as her would do.
This a person that is incredibly reliant on the people that surround her in life, especially those she truly loves, and that is exactly why her relationship with Tommy Gnosis guides her character and her movie. Just because all of Hedwig’s scars are covered with dresses, wigs, and make-up doesn’t mean they’re not there, and it reflects in the way the story is told. While the film taps into emotional depths not often looked at, it loves to conceal its emotions with humor throughout almost the entire film, but that’s all part of the charm of a musical like this one.
Hedwig & the Angry Inch may seem like a bit of an over-the-top mess at times, but it’s more a reflection of what a mess Hedwig is than something that reflects poorly on Mitchell’s writing. For all the slip-ups Hedwig has, there’s more than enough heart and soul in John Cameron Mitchell to make this film a truly entertaining and powerful experience.