I shouldn’t have to tell you that Hedwig and the Angry Inch is based on the brilliant Off-Broadway show of the same name, which was written by and starred John Cameron Mitchell as a transsexual rock wannabe on a journey of self-discovery. You should know this because you should have seen the show. If you didn’t, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Now’s your shot at redemption. Put down this magazine (better yet, take it with you), grab your lipstick, head directly for the nearest multiplex and buy a ticket to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a dizzying, glittering glam-fest that’ll have you singing through bittersweet tears of joy.
Mitchell described the show as a “post-punk neo-glam rock musical”, but I always thought of it as Kick-Ass Cabaret. Through a series of brutally funny (yet genuinely poignant) monologues and a set of skillfully-crafted songs, Hedwig Schmidt told her tragic tale: a lonely childhood in East Berlin, a botched sex-change operation, escape to America, a failed marriage, and, worst of all, betrayal by everyone she loved. The High Priestess of Double Entendres, Hedwig swaggered around the stage spitting, kicking and flailing – literally climbing over her audience – in a desperate attempt to convey her seething frustration and utter despair.
How, you ask, can this possibly be translated to the big screen? Filmed versions of musicals are notoriously hit-or-miss; believe me, Hedwig definitely hits. Converting the show’s one “performance” into a series of gigs, Hedwig’s story is now told through flashbacks, animated sequences, and, of course, those fantastic songs. Mitchell and collaborator Stephen Trask developed them in a series of engagements at NYC rock clubs. The result: a collection of well-written rock ‘n’ roll, pop and even country & western tunes astounding in their authenticity.
By expanding the story, Mitchell, who also directs, offers viewers a glimpse of Hedwig’s world; out of the spotlight, her swagger is replaced by a submissive shuffle. Mitchell infuses Hedwig with the perfect combination of desperation and hope; it’s obvious he knows his character inside and out. The same can’t be said of Yitzhak (Miriam Shor), Hedwig’s gender-confused husband and the film’s only real weakness. The role is severely undeveloped, and with her hyper-masculine strut, Shor comes off as a first-time drag king on amateur night.
But this isn’t Yitzhak’s story, it’s Hedwig’s, and it’s a psychedelic trip complete with hallucinogenic hair, makeup, costumes and sets. And those amazing songs. Angry and acerbic, Hedwig absolutely kicks ass.