Hedwig and the Angry Inch - 2001
Director(s): John Cameron Mitchell
Writer(s): John Cameron Mitchell
Cinematography by: Frank G. DeMarco
Editor(s): Andrew Marcus
Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Michael Pitt, Rob Campbell, Andrea Martin, and Michael Aronov
Google "Cult Classic Films" and you will quickly run into John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Originally a stage musical, this adaptation debuted at 2001's Sundance Film Festival, receiving critical praise and collecting multiple awards - sadly it was a box office bomb later that year. Since its release, like many of the films that fall under the "cult classic" umbrella, it gained a huge and devoted following thanks to its themes, music and unique filmmaking style. Let's talk about it.
The story follows Hansel Schmidt (Mitchell), a "girly boy" from East Berlin. To escape to the States, Hansel has a sex change (at the request of his "Sugar Daddy"), but the doctor botched the operation and left him with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs (the titular "Angry inch"). In the States and abandoned by her "Sugar Daddy," Hansel then becomes Hedwig on stage, a rock and roll star that sings about her life and explores the pain and darkness that lead her to the stage. She befriends a young boy named Tommy (Pitt), who would betray her and take her songs for his own, becoming an international Rockstar. Hedwig decides to follow Tommy on his tour and sing at any venue, many of whom are dinners with an uninterested audience, and showcase that she is the real author of the songs.
While on the surface this film may seem like an absurd comedy, and while at times it leans on its comedic elements (I laughed a lot), the story itself is densely layered with the themes of self-discovery/identity, love, acceptance, and religious beliefs. These themes are best explored through the songs: "Origins of Love" and "Wicked Little Town." All written and performed by Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Within Origins, we understand Hedwigs' views on love and destiny – informing her constant search for the person that will “complete” her – this helps the audience understand "why" she is so obsessed with Tommy, as she thought that she finally found her other half and was whole. And in Little Town, we see the pain and darkness the outside world has caused in her life, and how it has shaped her and harden her soul towards outsiders - yet she has hope of saving her other half ("you know you can follow my voice") from the outside world. Tommy also sings this song, and in his version, he calls out Hedwig's constant need to point the finger towards the world for his actions, and his lack of self-love ("the stranger is always you, alone again in some new wicked little town). Helping Hedwig finally accept who he/she is, and complete her(him)self without the need for a "cosmic lover."
Mitchell and cinematographer Frank G. Marco had the tough task of both translating the stage show to film language and making all the song performances not feel repetitive and stale. They succeeded at both, using creative editing, animation, and flashbacks. Since Hedwig's songs are explorations of his life, they used that venue to show flashbacks of his life expanding on the pathos that leads to the song we are about to see, adding weight to the performance of Mitchell. You can tell the Mitchell has been inside of Hedwig's head for many years (as a writer, and performer on the stage show) since he gives a natural performance, that sells the songs, her motivations, and her heartbreak - making what could've been an over the top character feel grounded and relatable.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch explores self-identity in a way that is unique and engaging. Thanks to fantastic lyrics and the energetic and captivating performance of Mitchell, you will have one or all the songs stuck in your head for days to come (I have Origins of Love in mine). I watched the ending multiple times as it is beautifully done, and it delivers an emotional punch, with a great message of self-love. I can easily see myself re-watching this film on a yearly basis; I had a blast within the emotional rollercoaster of Hedwig's life.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Why I Love Movies.
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