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Hedwig And The Angry Inch

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on February 25, 2009

I realized that if I eat through movies as quickly as I plan to, and I do other things such as living a relatively normal life (or I try to get back to one), I will probably not feel compelled to immediately write my review of each film after I finish it. Also, I really need to digest Hedwig a little more, as I know I enjoyed some aspects of it but I’m not sure what to make about others. So, be ready to read about Hedwig soon.

After that, the 1960s horror film, “The Innocents”*.



Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Written by: John Cameron Mitchell

Starring: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Andrea Martin

Recommended? Yes (for those of you who do not mind gay cinema, drag, and some bizarre conversations involving genitalia)

First let me be perfectly clear about this film: it is a rock musical. So for anyone who absolutely HATES all things musical, this might not be the movie for you. I stress the word “might” because a lot of the musical sequences happen as a band is performing in the film, so it might be “more acceptable” to those who cannot accept the world of spontaneous song and choreographed dance (PS- I would LOVE to live in that world). Hedwig takes the idea of a drag show beyond the norm with real singing and original pieces. But, really, is Hedwig considered a drag queen? Not quite a man, not quite a woman, but something in between, or perhaps even more, as the film suggests. Oh, I see I am getting ahead of myself here.

The story follows poor East German Hedwig and her (I will now refer to Hedwig as a female) band, The Angry Inch, which is named after what was left on Hedwig after a botched surgery. Hedwig was longing for freedom, striving to have her voice heard. We meet Hedwig while she’s touring the United States following her estranged lover, Tommy Gnosis, who stole her music. Hedwig and the Angry Inch perform in dives and diners, with audiences that do not seem quite appropriate for the show (or is Hedwig simply not appropriate for any of these places?), but Hedwig performs as if she’s headlining at Madison Square Garden. She exhumes rock and roll with every word she sings. Not only is she pure rock and roll, but she’s a bombshell. She looks like what Britney Spears should have looked like throughout her career, but failed to achieve. Hedwig’s sexuality oozes forth from her every movement, and from her complete and utter confidence in herself. Heavy makeup and skimpy outfits do not make a sex kitten.  Britney should take some notes from Hedwig. I know I’m considering it.

On top of the ever-fascinating Hedwig is a stellar soundtrack. I really enjoyed the original songs. The songs were often accompanied by animations done by Hedwig and shown on a screen during her performances. They reminded me of some of the work I saw by some art students I knew back in college. The drawings had a simplicity to them that was almost childlike, yet a sophistication to their composition and subject matter. Hedwig’s palette was often simply pastels. I want to describe it as “indie art”, but I feel like it’s redundant. I think of Wes Anderson films and Blitzen Trapper‘s music (incidentally, Blitzen Trapper has a song called “Furr” that sounds like it was lifted straight out of a Wes Anderson film. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s films, listen to the song. You’ll understand.). I found that the combination between what I would consider a more folksy kind of art with the rock music and the extreme performance that Hedwig delivered to be an interesting contrast that really worked well with the entire performance. The lyrics of the songs were interesting, bizarre, and fun. Some things were hilarious, others tragic, but I definitely wanted to sing along– something that Jame Cameron Mitchell clearly realized about his own work as during one musical number the audience is encouraged to join in, and the words of the chorus appear in sing-along style across the bottom of the screen.

I can’t help but try to understand this film in terms of gay cinema. I think of Velvet Goldmine and Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is perhaps unfair because those films come first and foremost for their rock musical connection (these are also both films that I highly, HIGHLY recommend.). I have to wonder why Hedwig’s partner in this film is a woman who is playing a man. This is something that is never addressed in the film, though it is obvious. But the question is, why is she there? It plays into one of the themes of the film; finding your other half. Does it make sense for Hedwig’s other half to be a man who is really a woman? But since the film never addresses the true gender of Yitzhak (Miriam Shor), we are left to wonder if Yitzhak is really meant to be a male that Mitchell wanted a female to play, or is Yitzhak is really a transvestite or transsexual. It’s one of the points of the film that I’ve been mulling over for the past couple of days. That, along with the ending of the film (which I really don’t want to divulge because I don’t like to give a lot away about films and I know I’m already going too far in this review) have left me curious as to some of Mitchell’s intentions.

Overall, the film deals with the issues of identity, duality, and the need to complete ourselves through love. Is Hedwig actually Hedwig because she wants to be that way? Does she see herself as a woman? Or is Hedwig what Hansel (Hedwig DID start out as a young lad) sees as his best option; not something that he objects to, but not something he necessarily always wants to be? The ending seems to indicate a rebirth, but I am still not completely sure about how Mitchell views Hedwig; likewise, I am unsure if it is implied that Hedwig completes herself in her strange position, or if Hedwig can never find her proper counterpart. The last performance is that of liberation, but I’m not totally sure about the transformation that has taken place. Perhaps I’m a bit rusty on my film analysis, but I’m still trying to work out my conclusions on the ending; I have some ideas, but I’m not making any solid conclusions. Perhaps that’s how Mitchell wanted it.

*Fuck “The Innocents“. Seriously, fuck it. It’s based on Henry James’ “The Turning of the Screw”, and I really wasn’t sold on it. It’s funny because it looks like all of the posters on its IMDB message board are in love with the film, and think it’s one of the best horror movies ever made. I was so “meh’d” but it that I just really don’t want to bother talking about it. If you’re curious, go ahead and pick it up. I could be totally wrong and this could be a brilliant piece of cinema. But, as far as old horror films go (especially ghost films), this one didn’t do it for me.

I’m planning on getting to The Magnificent Seven next, but I might squeeze something else into the schedule before then. Just keep checking back for more!


4 Responses to “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”

  1. Serryl said

    I’ve requested this movie and the Maltese Falcon from my local library, so hopefully I’ll be able to provide more pointed commentary next week. For now I have two questions.

    Is Hedwig played by an actress?

    Will you be combing reviews like this moving forward?

  2. Cantankerous Panda said

    Hedwig is played by John Cameron Mitchell. Sorry I forgot to mention that. I figured the whole “drag” thing would have been a good enough hint, though ;).

    Also, The Innocents wasn’t really a review. It was a blurb to explain why I won’t be giving it a real review. I plan on having one review per post, because they are LONG.

  3. That girl that you know said

    I liked your review and I agree with you about Hedwig’s identity. Anyway, I thought it was a strange movie, and somewhat confusing, but overall I think it is a good flick.

    And, yeah, fuck The Innocents. I really didn’t know what to think with that one.

  4. Serryl said

    I just finished this movie, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. As for the ending, it’s interesting. If you look at it symbolically, Hedwig is his own other half and the ending shows the individual that results from him coming to terms with that reality. Tommy’s last performance and the ending animation are what gave me this impression.

    A portion of the lyrics read:

    And there’s no mystical design,
    No cosmic lover preassigned.
    There’s nothing you can find
    that can not be found.

    Hedwig sobs upon hearing these words and the ones that follow. After the song he takes on the appearance of Tommy as Hedwig had made him. As he sings we see an animation of two sides trying to come together lovingly and violently before becoming one. We also see Yitzhak transformed into the woman she seemed to want to be at the beginning when she tried on Hedwig’s wig.

    So what does it all mean? I think Hedwig, faced with being neither male or female, was concerned with finding happiness or peace. This led her to search for her “other half.” She tried with the Soldier and was betrayed. She molded Tommy a bit and was betrayed. It seems like Yitzhak was her third attempt. She kept Yitzhak’s passport and may have turned her into a man in an attempt to find someone suitable, who also couldn’t run away or betray her.

    In the end, she seems to discover that she is her own other half. If you want to get really deep, you could even say that her scarred genitalia are equivalent to the “scar” the gods gave us to remind us that we have been separated into two parts: in her case, her female persona from her male body. This separation from our “other halves” is said to be the beginning of love. Only through love do the two halves come together, and Hedwig’s love is of herself.

    That’s my initial impression at least. Let me know what you think.

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