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IN SHORT: Rock musicals come in many shapes and sizes. This is one of the better ones. [Rated R for sexual content and language. 95 minutes]
We admit we've never cared much for musical anythings, short of the purest forms, in concert or a recording. Don't care much for musical plays and even less for music on film, unless the story somehow managed to make the music absolutely integral to the story. That usually meant a story about a band (a la the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap) or some kind of performance artist (which is what, ultimately, Rocky Horror Picture Show was). All this revelation brings us around; the long way around to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which manages to be about both a band and, at first appearances, a drag performer. It is also a major surprise. A tragedy with a lot of humor and a great rock score which took two prizes at Sundance
As we've written before, winning a prize at a film festival is usually a sure early warning indicator that the film is going to make the average Joe want to run for the hills. That's not the net effect of Hedwig, though the looks of the star (writer/director John Cameron Mitchell) may give those of you who've never had exposure to glam rock, pause. Simply, glam (as introduced by the likes of the New York Dolls, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed et al) featured hard rock playing bands in heavy duty mascara and makeup. Wigs and sequined garb optional, but not discouraged.
It wasn't the makeup that thrilled young Hansel Schmidt of East Berlin. It was the sound of "American Rock". Hansel's mom went East when the Berlin wall went up. His dad was a GI Joe who got booted out of his life when mom caught him getting all touchy feely with the then seven year old kidlet. Li'l Hansel spent his play time in a self-built shrine to the American rock 'n' rollers he'd hear on Armed Forces Radio. Lou Reed. David Bowie (even though he was a Brit). Toni Tenille. All the Greats. When Hansel was offered a way out of the cellblock that was Berlin, mom didn't blink twice when she met the intended. His name was Sgt. Luther Robinson (Maurice Dean Wint) and the courtship was real, as was the legal requirement that Hansel be inspected to "prove" he was a woman.
"Well," said mom, "to walk away you've got to leave something behind." In this case it was Hansel's "little richard," and the surgeon that did the job botched it. Thus, the Angry Inch of the title, and the creation of "Hedwig," a loving wife abandoned by her hubby in a Kansas trailer park. How Hedwig finds a career fronting a band stalking a stadium rock level band named and led by Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) is part of the tragedy of this comedy.
You wouldn't think psychological trauma, a botched chop job and the resulting confusion of sexual identity could yield comedy, but it does. You may not think there could be much of interest to a middle of the road audience that doesn't much care for anything with any hint of a homosexual theme, but we're thinking you might be wrong about that as well. Hedwig's quest is for love. His/her problem, as detailed in one of the songs by Stephen Trask (with visuals by animator Emily Hubley) is that, post-operation, he/she/it has no idea where it belongs on the grand scale of male/female relations. Hedwig's second husband, the band's guitarist Yitzhak (Miriam Shore), is just as unhappy with the questions as Hedwig is. That the group is playing a tour of the Bilgewater salad bar restaurant chain, stalking and playing the same songs as the stadium rock band Tommy Gnosis, is just part of the grand drama built into the script. Andrea Martin costars as Phyllis Stein, the band's manager and, sometimes, sole fan.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch began its life as an off-Broadway show and its roots show only as you get near the end of the flick. Its indie budget doesn't allow a big enough penultimate scene -- one final song once success rears its ugly head -- and the story itself veers off in a way which we didn't understand.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he would have paid . . .
Hedwig is being marketed (initially) via gay film festivals, which means most
of our audience won't have a chance at it until it hits the video racks. Seek
it out, if for nothing more than the classic rock sounding pseudo glam soundtrack
(which can be sampled on the website)
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