John Cameron Mitchell’s ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (2001)

13Oct09

“One day in the late mid-’80s, I was in my early late-twenties. I had just been dismissed from university after delivering a brilliant lecture on the aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock ‘n’ roll entitled ‘You, Kant, Always Get What You Want.'”   — Hedwig

I have approached John Cameron Mitchell’s cult phenomenon Hedwig and the Angry Inch completely backward. I first became aware of the project through a covers album that featured several musicians whom I like, and hearing those covers encouraged me to seek out the original performances, like the music from any good musical should do. After listening to the soundtrack for a couple months, I finally saw the film. Hopefully, one day I will see a performance of the original stage musical, completing my experience of Hedwig: The Reverse.

I wasn’t certain if I wanted to see the movie after hearing Mitchell perform the songs that I loved when Kim Deal, Corin Tucker, and Frank Black sang them. Mitchell’s musical background comes from the theater, so his take on Stephen Trask’s punk- and glam rock-inspired songs sounds very much like a Broadway approach to rock music, which was a little disappointing after hearing the music performed by rock ‘n’ rollers. But watching Mitchell as Hedwig changes things entirely. He performs the hell out of these songs, which form the backbone of Hedwig. The rest is simply window dressing, and that’s just fine with me. I prefer my musicals to be lighter on book because what’s the point of having songs if they aren’t essential to telling the story?

However, I don’t intend to dismiss John Cameron Mitchell’s sharply written script by any means. Hedwig’s running narrative of her life is full of bon mots and campy gay humor, but Mitchell treats his characters with a lot of love and compassion despite the irreverent wit. With a main character whose botched sex change operation left an “angry inch,” Hedwig’s primary aim is obviously to challenge notions of both sex and gender. But a person needn’t be intersex, trans, or even queer to sympathize with Hedwig’s struggle. Who hasn’t been made to feel like less of a woman or a man at some point in their lives? Or felt like they needed to conform to some stereotypical notion of gender to get what they wanted or to feel like part of a group? My main complaint about the script is that I would prefer the ending be less surreal. It feels like Cameron is trying to make a statement without really making one, so I end up confused about the ultimate message of the film.

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One Response to “John Cameron Mitchell’s ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (2001)”

  1. It looks like you are a true expert. Did you study about the theme? haha..


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