HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH — THE CRITERION COLLECTION
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"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001) epitomizes an LGBT uprising on multiple fronts. Based on the musical by composer Stephen Trask and actor/director John Cameron Mitchell, the film adaptation is disarmingly touching and funny at every turn.
The narrative significance of the title’s “angry inch” is the lump of itching burning flesh left behind after Hedwig’s botched sex change operation. Hedwig—formerly Hansel Schmidt—underwent the procedure, at his mother’s advice, in order to enable his escape from communist East Berlin to the U.S. by marrying Luther, a gay African-American soldier.
A distorted guitar version of the American national anthem segues into LGBT rock goddess Hedwig (Cameron Mitchell) leading her tough-looking Eastern bloc rock band through “Tear me Down,” a ferocious song that discusses, “the divide between east and west, between slavery and freedom, between man and woman, top and bottom.”
Hedwig sings, “Ain’t much difference between a bridge and a wall. Without me right in the middle, babe you would be nothing at all.”
Hedwig’s guitarist boyfriend Yitzhak (convincingly played by Miriam Shor) slips into spoken verse: “August 13, 1961 a wall was erected down the middle of the city of Berlin. The world was divided by a cold war and the Berlin Wall was the most hated symbol of that divide. Reviled, graffitied, spit upon; we thought the wall would stand forever and now that it’s gone we don’t know who we are.”
A punk rock musical ethos carries the quasi-political tone of Hedwig’s exposition of a personal history referenced in artfully composed flashback sequences and animated reveries. The band’s confrontationally punk performance is anachronistically set in a Junction City, Kansas, diner where Hedwig slips into comic monologues between songs. Hedwig’s sharp wit drips with irreverent sarcasm. Hedwig is a memorable and charismatic psycho-sexual archetype firmly on par with Iggy or Bowie.
Brilliantly photographed performances of well-crafted songs such as the mystically minded “Origin of Love,” or the all-out rocker “Angry Inch,” carry much of the story.
A romantically hot rivalry endures between Hedwig and her former lover/apprentice Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who has gone on to great musical success. Hedwig is sick with heartbreak, anger, and jealousy over Tommy’s betrayal. Through the story of Hedwig’s doomed romantic encounters the audience is exposed to a character that has never existed before; on-screen or off. John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig is a vivid contrivance of inspired human conviction.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is an important cultural touchstone for the LGBT community and a thrilling discovery for everyone. The film’s articulate and passionate depiction of a complex person using performance art as the ultimate self-help therapy is utterly cathartic.
Rated R. 95 mins.