Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001)
Sadly not a Harry Potter spin-off musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a fantastic movie and you should watch it right now.
Oh, okay. Hedwig is a very complex, interesting, and fun film, but because it achieves those adjectives through a non-linear plot device that reveals more and more about its main character with every song, I want the Haven’t Seens to go check it out before they read another word.
TOO LATE, I’ve spoiled everything, STOP READING THESE WORDS.
Poor Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell). Poor poor poor poor Hedwig. What’s amazing is that the many tragic events of Hedwig’s life could form the most melodramatic, Oscar-baitiest movie ever made, but instead of being a sad shitty wankfest, somehow this story of war and politics and identity and survival and prejudice and failure and loneliness is a goddamn hoot. I daresay that’s the point; Hedwig is just doing the best she can with what she’s got. And what she’s got is a rock band and an inch of leftover dick meat from a botched sex change.
I could’ve said, “What she’s got is heart,” but I think Hedwig would call me a pussy.
I can’t really put a bow on Hedwig like that, though, especially because she decides if she wants to wear a bow or not. I enjoyed the film’s relatable themes of struggling with identity and recovering from trauma, but I’ll admit that the story wraps up in a fairly abstract way that didn’t feel like everything was fully resolved. This didn’t bother me so much as it made me want to watch it all again. There’s a lot to sort through, and even if it’s meant to be ambiguous, I don’t want to “miss” anything.
Let me run this shot through the movie analyzer and get back to you.
In the end, though, Hedwig isn’t a code to be broken. It’s a journey you’re invited to join. Maybe you and Hedwig can find what you’re looking for together.
I mean, shit, John Cameron Mitchell, right? I’ve got a whole lab full of word scientists inventing ways to describe this performance, and so far, “comflugutastic.” Wow, that’s terrible, word scientists, keep trying, but in the meantime, sweet fuck, you can’t take your eyes off of Hedwig. She rocks the hardest and doesn’t give two shits and is as hilarious as she is unhappy. This role has it all and Mitchell just aces every bit.
I’ll admit, the storyline of Hedwig’s back-up singer Yitzhak never fully jelled for me, but we’re in the acting section now, so I’ll just say that Miriam Shor has some enjoyable scenes of confused admiration for Hedwig. Does he want her? Does he want to be her?
Does he wish ’80s hair metal would make a comeback?
Hey, look, Andrea Martin! She’s the band’s manager. Her name is Phyllis Stein. Fun.
Good seein’ you again, Andrea.
Maurice Dean Wint has a small but entertaining role as American soldier Sgt. Luther Robinson, Hedwig’s first lover that orders the sex change operation so they can get married and out of East Berlin. He’s definitely a camp portrayal of a big strong military man and is clearly having fun with it.
Aww YEAH, who’s your gummy bear?
And lastly, Michael Pitt does a perfectly angsty job of playing confused-Christian-turned-goth-rocker Tommy Gnosis. He’s frustrated and embarrassingly naive and knows nothing about rock music until Hedwig whips him into shape. Pitt’s performance is very nuanced; he’s not quite arrogant, but not quite passive either, and you get the sense that his upbringing really messed with his head and will never stop preventing him from being with Hedwig.
Stop making so many punchable faces.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
If you’ve been steadily reading all of my articles, you’re probably getting sick of me asking, “Does this count?” about many of the musicals I’ve watched this year. You see, the songs in Hedwig and the Angry Inch are mostly just the gigs the band plays while on tour, but while I wouldn’t call just about any other movie about a band a musical, Hedwig is a special case, as each song is based on an important event in the singer’s life that we often flash back to. TL;DR version: fuck yeah, Hedwig is a musical.
We’re immediately slammed with the band singing “Tear Me Down,” which compares Hedwig to her native Berlin and how they were both split into two sides. And just like the Berlin Wall, people wanna tear Hedwig down. It fucking rocks.
A lot of these will just be pictures of the band.
Will you complain? NO, YOU WILL NOT.
Then we get a downtempo tune called “The Origin of Love” that’s basically a rock retelling of that old myth in which everybody had two heads and was split apart and now we’re all looking for our other half. It’s a beautiful song, it sets up Hedwig’s feelings of being incomplete, and it’s also accompanied by some lovely animation.
Uh oh, looks like Scotty was drunk at the transporter controls again.
After we learn the story of how big hunky Sgt. Luther gave lil’ Hedwig a sweet sack of gummy bears, we see the band performing the catchy country-esque “Sugar Daddy,” a perfect “candy means sex” song for a bunch of bewildered restaurant patrons to eat up.
“Waiter, there’s something fabulous in my soup.”
Brace yourself for rock fury in “Angry Inch,” which details Hedwig’s frightening sex change operation with an infectious chorus of “six inches forward, five inches back.” It’s quite the fist pumper for such a terrifying subject.
The phrase “stuck in my head” seems inappropriate here.
Oh, man, and then “Wig in a Box.” This song is gold. The first number that doesn’t start as a gig, it’s all about Hedwig discovering how fun it is to try on different wigs and pretend to be somebody else, and it’s both a wonderful look at identity and a beautifully Beatle-y tune. Plus, there’s a sing-along section.
Aww, thanks, guys!
We later get a flashback to when Hedwig first met Tommy Gnosis (well, outside of a bathtub surprise) and she sings “Wicked Little Town,” a slow, bittersweet ode to living in the middle of nowhere and having to band together with your fellow freaks against the conservative majority. The song is nice, but to be honest, I spent this scene more enthralled with the subtle joke of its location. I’ve done enough stageless restaurant comedy gigs while blocking bathroom traffic to know that Hedwig is at a very low point in her singing career.
It’s almost as sad as having a blog nobody reads.
Oh, and then things get… weird. Well, weirder. The DVD chapters inform me that the scene I’m about to describe is actually three songs squished together: “Hedwig’s Lament,” “Exquisite Corpse,” and Tommy Gnosis’s rendition of “Wicked Little Town.” It starts off slow and sad, with Hedwig recalling her operation and how she gave up so much of herself to the people in her life…
And then RAWWWWWRRR, ROCK AND ROLL RAGE, FRANKENSTEIN IMAGERY, HEDWIG RIPS OFF HER CLOTHES AND TURNS INTO TOMMY GNOSIS, FAST EDITS, STROBE LIGHTS, RAAAAAGE!!!
JUGGLING?! ON COCAINE?! PROBABLY.
And then Hedwig is suddenly watching Tommy sing yet another song she wrote. It’s a crazy sequence and I don’t quite get what’s happening, but there’s nothing wrong with a little ambiguity when it’s this intense.
Wait, I get it, Tommy Gnosis was Hedwig FROM THE FUTURE.
And, finally, we end on a big closer, “Midnight Radio,” a heartfelt tribute to weirdo rockers everywhere. Let that freak flag fly.
Hmm, the freak flag kinda looks like a tribble.
I get the feeling that there are more songs in the stage version, since we hear snippets of them in tour montages and whatnot, but I can say with certainty that every track that made it into the film is a hit. Not a bad song in the bunch.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Alright, I fucked up the Worst Lyric section this week. I misheard a line from “Angry Inch” as “my tits have a face,” but I’ve now reviewed the videotape and the actual line is… well, still weird, but at least I kind of understand it symbolically. In lieu of a runner-up shitty lyric, here’s the real line, devoid of boobs with facial features…
“My mother made my tits out of clay…”
The story is great, the acting is great, the music is fucking great. I want to see the stage version right now. Taye Diggs, you say?