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"Good Things Come in Small Packages: Hedwig and the Angry Inch"
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by John Cameron Mitchell; reviewed by Simon-Astley Scholfield, 23 March 2002
Just cross Jayne County with David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust period and you get a good idea of how the punk-glam androgynous singer Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) takes to the stage. Think of a lanky drag queen with thick blonde coiff’and lashes, loads of lippy and 70s glitter, and endless attitude. Then see the outrageous Hedwig and her band, the Angry Inch, performing their thrash music in cheap gigs in ‘Bilgewater’ seafood diners in suburban malls across the backwaters of the United States. Listen at each gig as Hedwig reveals another snippet from her extraordinary life (screeched in a lyrical or colourful monologue) to a totally disinterested straightsville audience…
Hedwig is born Hansel in the early 1960s, the son of a German housefrau and a US soldier. Growing up in East Berlin after his single mother flees there with him when the Wall goes up, Hansel is enthralled as a boy by American radio broadcasts of Bowie hits. Coming out as gay in his youth, he finds the love of a daddy-figure American GI who offers to take him to the USA if he will surgically change his sex and marry him. After botched sex reassignment surgery, Hansel becomes Hedwig, a pseudo-transsexual with a protruding “one-inch mound” of genital flesh. Making it to trashville USA, she’s put up in a trailer by her GI husband who soon leaves her for a younger man, anyway. As the Berlin Wall comes down, the abandoned Hedwig becomes a post Cold War American singer, fronting a bizarre band of Korean sergeant’s housewives who play backing instruments. While babysitting she meets cute schoolboy and rock-star-wannabe Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt) who instantly falls (well, actually rises) for her charms. Hedwig and Tommy become lovers, co-writing music and lyrics together, but once he becomes superstar “Tommy Gnosis” and discovers Hedwig’s anatomical secret, he dumps her without a cent or a even a goodbye kiss, and claims their songs as his alone. Tabloids soon tell the world of their story.
… Now in suburban diners with her Angry Inch band, Hedwig and her lawyer/agent follow Gnosis on his latest sold-out music tour across the United States. Hedwig seeks to avenge this latest guy who done her wrong, but will the ex-lovers ever meet up again? Will Hedwig remain an “internationally ignored song stylist” or achieve the musical acclaim she so clearly deserves? And, then what?
Hedwig is a stunning film adaptation of the 1998-2000 cult off-Broadway musical of the same name. Mitchell and Miriam Shor (who convincingly plays Hedwig’s bearded male lover, Yitzhak) clearly enjoy themselves immensely in this cinematic reprisal of their original stage roles. While much of the humour is expectedly tongue-in-cheek in a drag queeny (and drag kingly) way, Hedwig is riddled with wittily hysterical post-PC one-liners and sight gags (the special “Menses” women’s festival sequence is a personal favourite). The opening credits and Mike Potter’s wigs are absolutely funky and the sheer effrontery of Arianne Phillips’ awesome giggle-inducing costumes explains why she’s the personal stylist to Courtney Love and Madonna. Also gorgeous is Emily Hubley’s animated visual poetry which accompanies Hedwig’s touching and bewitching song about seeking one’s soulmate, the lyrics (by Stephen Trask) based on notions from Plato’s Symposium of the primacy and im/mortality of love and the original split of the Androgyne, Woman, and Man into (hetero- and homo-) sexual binaries. Altogether, Hedwig is a superficially deep, delightfully entertaining, deliciously camp and decadently poignant in-your-face, post-Rocky Horror romp!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Screenplay: John Cameron Mitchell, based on the stage play by Mitchell and Stephen Trask Composer/Lyricist: Stephen Trask
Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask
Producers: Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel
Costumes: Arianne Phillips
Wig and Make-up Design: Mike Potter
Animation: Emily Hubley
2002, 2006 © Simon Astley Scholfield