“It is clear that I must find my other half.”
What started as an offbeat, off-Broadway musical in a hole-in-the-wall theater in West Village Manhattan, eventually made its way to the silver screen and Hedwig, of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, became a little known but none the less loved character at the face of the LGBT community. It’s a little heard off film in the movie world, but a huge and shiny hidden gem for those who find it.
John Cameron Mitchell is such a great talent and paired with long time friend Stephen Trask they succeeded in making a masterpiece. Inspired by a childhood babysitter, Mitchell wrote the story, directed the film and played the lead of Hedwig.
The story follows transgender rock star Hedwig who sings her way through greasy spoons across the USA, backed by her band of misfits who call themselves The Angry Inch. As she goes from one decrepit venue to another, she sings her songs that tell her life story. The music, written by Stephen Trask, is a mix of ear jarring punk, folky ballads, crazy show tunes and rock anthems that all help paint a picture of Hedwig’s vibrant life. The rock based musical makes for a brilliant and stunning soundtrack that includes beautiful songs like “The Origin of Love” and “Wicked Little Town” as well as fun tracks like “Sugar Daddy”.
What makes Hedwig different is that she isn’t the cliche of a glamours singer. She had a rough life from birth. She was born, male, Hansel Schmidt in communist East Germany, the same year the Berlin Wall went up. Hansel meets American Sgt Luther Robinson and the two become close (I won’t call it love because it isn’t) and plan to get married which will allow Hansel to get to America. In order to be married, however, there must be one man and one woman, so Hansel gets a sex change and becomes Mrs. Hedwig Robinson. But the operation goest horribly wrong, leaving her with a “one inch mound of flesh” dubbed her angry inch.
The couple moves to America where Luther dumps her on their first wedding anniversary, the same day that Hedwig watches the Berlin wall fall on TV. Having lost everything, her tremendous sacrifices for naught, Hedwig begins singing. She meets young Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt) who she falls in love with, believing that she has found her other half. She mentors Tommy, teaching him how to be a rock star and gives him the name Tommy Gnosis. But he betrays her, stealing all her songs and gaining fame for what isn’t his, leaving Hedwig to toil away trying to get even a dime of recognition.
Another character vital to the story is Yitzhak (Miriam Shor) , a drag queen who acts somewhat as Hedwig’s partner and whom Hedwig forbids to dress in drag; the two have no romance between them.
The main theme in Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the search for one’s other half, the search for love. Hedwig struggles with this throughout the whole film, questioning if her other half is even out there.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a bit hard to follow at times and leaves a lot open, inviting audiences to interpret and take from it what they will. This is what I take from the ending: the end scene is supposed to be somewhat of a virtual reality that takes place all inside of Hedwig’s head. Tommy sings “Wicked Little Town” saying goodbye and Hedwig realizes that her other half is inside her. I don’t mean this literally, I just mean that she realizes she must make herself happy and love herself first and foremost and in turn she will find her other half. So she takes off her wig, her makeup, her clothes; frees herself (the implication being that Hedwig is actually a gay male). Hedwig also realizes that in order to free herself she must free those around her, so she hands her wig to Yitzhak, allowing him to once again be the drag queen he is.
Though not seemingly relatable on the surface, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an outsiders story. The story of a misfit struggling with love and success; searching for their other half. At it’s core, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a story that truly, we can all relate to at at least one point in our life. To quote Andrew Rannells, who I think sums up Hedwig perfectly, “It’s about feeling lost and looking for love and wanting to feel complete inside.”
Shot on a low budget of only $6 million, the production design is whimsical and glitzy, producing an almost dreamlike effect. It’s filled to bursting with full out glitter and sparkles. The extravagant costumes, gorgeous wigs and over the top makeup really make the film. Graphics and small animated sequences are also interspersed and play out as a visual to some songs; a cool and unique touch.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch was nominated for quite a few awards including a Golden Globe nomination for John Cameron Mitchell and a directing award win at Sundance Film Festival.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is blunt and frank and not afraid to puts itself out their by addressing momentous topics. It’s a quirky, independent musical that doesn’t hesitate to be weird and in your face. It’s heartbreaking and funny and eccentric and definitely not for everyone but Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a sincere and truly beautiful film.