An Angry Inch goes a long way

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

(John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Theodore Liscinski)

Rated: R

 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens with a scene in which Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell), backed by her pan-Slavic band, The Angry Inch, performs her gender bending show in front of the indifferent dinner crowd at an anonymous greasy spoon. A luminous and charismatic performer, Hedwig sparks one’s curiosity as to how she came to play such a dive. This question is answered as the film progresses through an ingenious array of techniques, from the song lyrics themselves, to flashbacks, to several revealing animated sequences.

Hedwig, originally born Hansel, sees no way of escaping the stifling lifestyle that Communist East Germany offers a young boy confused with his identity and crazy about David Bowie. Hansel sees his chance by marrying an American G.I. named Luther, and agrees to a requisite sex change, which is botched by some back alley doctor, leaving him with his “angry inch.”

After the marriage fizzles, Hedwig finds herself alone in bucolic Kansas City. Performing with a makeshift band, Hedwig eventually falls for 17-year-old Tommy Gnosis, who ends up stealing her songs and breaking her heart. We now understand why Hedwig is relegated to playing such horrible gigs, as her band shadows Tommy’s national tour, attempting to ride the gravy train of her “alleged” involvement with Tommy.

It’s no mistake that Hedwig was born in the exact year in which the Berlin Wall was erected. The wall, which polarized the people of Berlin into Communist East and Allied-controlled West, serves as a fitting metaphor for a character who rides the fence between being a romantic or a cynic, a star or an anonym and a male or a female.

Due simply to style and subject matter, comparisons between Hedwig and The Rocky Horror Picture Show are inevitable. And, one can see how Hedwig could become a cult classic along the lines of Rocky Horror. The songs are catchy, the humor is sharp and the characters are endearing. Mitchell was obviously aware of this, evidenced in particular by a follow-the-bouncing-wig scene which attempts to inspire a sing-along, almost begging for the audience participation that makes a Rocky Horror screening such an event.

– Christopher Yocum

Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens today at the Uptown Theatre.