May 15, 2011

[Movies] Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)It's funny how it's typically the movies that I love the most that tend to have not yet appeared here on the Geeky Guide. I suppose it's a natural consequence of the fact that I watched a lot of these movies or read whichever book well before the Geeky Guide ever existed. And thus I just sort of assume that I've done my homework and written about it since I love the darn movie or book so much. But clearly that's not always the case and there remain to be quite a number of key items that have slipped through the cracks.

I remember first watching this movie in the wee hours of the morning on HBO Asia. I was all alone in the living room when I stumbled upon the movie already in-progress. I hadn't missed too much - but based on what I was seeing, I realized that this was the movie that my boyfriend at the time had been telling me about. And so I stayed up and watched - and it was glorious.

Admittedly, this movie has a lot of emotional significance for me. It remains to be one of those movies that truly struck me in my first year of coming out to people. Whether it was because of the music or the animated imagery or maybe just the fact that I'm a big theater geek at heart, I just fell in love with this movie. And I'm happy to take the time to write about it for today's Pink Culture update.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a 2001 musical film adaptation of the rock musical of the same name. The movie was written and directed by the stage play's heart and soul - John Cameron Mitchell. For both the musical and the play, music and lyrics was provided by Stephen Trask.

John Cameron MitchellImage via WikipediaHedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) is actually one Hansel Schmidt from East Germany who grew up loving rock and roll music which he would listen to with his head stuck in his mother's oven. He eventually meets and falls in love with an American soldier by the name of Luther Robinson (Maurice Dean Wint). When the two decide to leave the country together, the only way to get Hedwig out is for him to get married to Luther as a woman. And thus with the surprising aid and support of his mother, he takes her name Hedwig and undergoes a sex change operation.

So the two indeed run off to the US together and end up in Junction City, Kansas. Eventually Luthor leaves Hedwig for another man and thus she's left alone to fend for herself. With the news that the Berlin Wall has finally fallen, Hedwig then sets off to explore a career in rock and roll music together with a bunch of Korean Army wives. This musical journey leads to her crossing with a young Christian-raised Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt). The two hit it off right away and start working on songs together. Everything seems to be perfectly happy, but you know that a good musical needs to have more tragedy than this.

The movie, similar to the play, is done in the form of a narrative re-telling of Hedwig's past leading up to the present. In the modern day, Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch are touring the country in close "pursuit" of Tommy Gnosis nee Speck who now performs the same songs that he collaborated on together with Hedwig. And so the movie is about Hedwig's life of pain and us as an audience discovering how he went from a life of happiness with a young Tommy to playing at nearby venues to Tommy's concert tour.

If you loved the musical, then you'll be happy to know that the movie is just as full of the same powerful, emotional and passionate songs that put this play on the map. Of course it helps that the movie has many of the same talents involved in the stage play including Miriam Shor as Yitzhak, a member of the band. In the movie Yitzhak has a slightly expanded role apart from his wig-stealing ways in the stage version.

The movie plays out like a series of interconnected music videos. You have that same kind of super saturated color sequences that best highlight Hedwigs outlandish outfits, color costumes and of course her exotic and towering wigs. What is a female impersonator without wigs and over the top attire, right? But please remember, Hedwig is not just a drag queen. He's almost completely a woman, apart from her "angry inch" leftover.

I can't exactly rave about the acting of the movie. It was good but nothing great enough to write home about. It didn't take anything away from the movie but it certainly didn't contribute all too much. To be fair, the original play practically was a one-person show mainly performed by John Cameron Mitchell, and he definitely continued to do well in that regard. The lack of substantial writing for the other characters meant less for them to do in the movie and thus less opportunities to do more. Then again, I'm glad they didn't take time away from the core story by trying to write more character back story for the rest of the band apart from the occasional moments with Yitzhak, which still helped the overall movie.

What was most striking for me was definitely the animated sequence utilized for what is probably the most famous song of the play, The Origin of Love. The creative re-telling of the speech of Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium was brought to life quite beautifully with a somewhat rough yet certainly emotionally evocative style that conveyed the message quite well. And it certainly leaves a strong mark in anyone's memory once you've seen the film.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a fiercely passionate rock musical brought to life in this movie in a manner that is fully deserving of the original performance. It gets 5 crazy Bilgewater venues where Hedwig and the Angry Inch performs out of a possible 5.

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