Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Starring John Cameron Mitchell
Music By Steven Trask

My Rating:

And 10 stars for the St. Hedwig's Eve Party.

Bitable Bytes:
"Outrageously, Wildly Glamorous!"
"Lavish Film-making!"
"There's Nothing Ditsy about [it]!"
"Mitchell [Is] Spot On!"
"Positive! Life-Affirming!"

What to eat while watching:
The blue-plate special. Or maybe just a good beer.

What to do while watching:
Dress up and sing along.

Even more spectacular than the outrageously, wildly glamorous Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the multi-facetted cult-movie-to-be, was the atmosphere in which I watched the DVD edition. I'd seen Hedwig in the local art theater, and months ago, the sparsely populated darkness already held a half-dozen converts, dressed in high drag, singing every song.

So I knew from the moment I got the e-vite that the St. Hedwig's Eve Party my friends Tao and Jasper were throwing was going to be a good time. They are always two for doing things up right. Their apartment had been temporarily wallpapered in gold lame (that's lam-ay), and they had all the accoutrements for a classic cult-movie party from the weird liquor to the karaoke machine.

Everyone arrived in drag. Having had little time to prepare, I dressed a bit more conservative than most. I hinted at glamour with a purple wig, but I was not clean-shaven, and my ensemble was something that a drag queen would wear around the house. Terence on the other hand, looked like my Aunt Esther in the height of her Hollywoodian glory days. He's got a good waist for women's glamour pants. One woman (with handlebar moustache and greaser overalls) was giving makeovers to those who didn't have the ability to do themselves.

In all, we were a fab bunch, and it took some doing to get us all settled on and around the couch for the screening, but at last we gathered and began the celebratory observance of the movie.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for those who need some schema for approaching such a non-traditional film, is a bit like a modern Rocky Horror Picture Show with a deeper romantic line, more historical and political significance and music that's closer to Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie and The Sex Pistols. Two storylines unfold side by side: Hedwig's rise to hard-won recognition as rock icon (and self-discovery) and Hedwig's strange and tumultuous history. As the dual story of Hedwig's love life and rise to rock-and-roll stardom, there are many musical numbers. These are intrinsic to the story, but many are also decorated with campy touches that go beyond story-telling into lavish film-making. There are also some fine animated sequences by Emily Hubley, illustrating the song "Origin of Love," a retelling of Aristophanes' classic tale from Plato's Symposium. Which shows that there's nothing ditsy about this film, unlike Rocky Horror.

The tale: Hansel is a young boy growing up in East Germany during the days of the Berlin wall. He is influenced by American rock picked up over short-wave radio. The absence of his father and the emotional distance of his austere mother turn him into a weird kid. As a young man, he is seduced by an American serviceman, and sees an opportunity to escape East Germany as the Lieutenant's gay partner. One obstacle: he's going to have to pose as a woman and go through a complete physical. That is, he's going to have to leave his penis in East Berlin. The operation is botched and Hansel, now Hedwig, is left with an inch-long, scarred appendage.

Still in a daze over the brutal transformation, he lands in trailerpark, USA where the Lieutenant moves on to the next boy, leaving him in the proverbial lurch. Then, as the coup de grace in Hedwig's descent into harsh reality, the Berlin wall falls and citizens of East Germany are free to come and go as they please for the first time in decades. Which just goes to show that timing is everything.

Handed this cruel fate, Hedwig attempts to make lemonade, eking out a living and eventually culling a cluster of Air Force wives as the rhythm section for the songs she is now writing. She plays her music in small cafes, but it's not until she seduces/is seduced by a young brat named Tommy that her musical career begins to pick up speed. The two become lovers as Tommy receives musical tutelage and inspiration from Hedwig. But at last, Tommy cannot deal with Hedwig's wounded body and he flees--stealing their music and garnering rock and roll fame as a solo act.

Hedwig goes on a parallel tour, playing whatever restaurant is next door to the stadium Tommy is playing. She is just trying to get what's due her after all she's been through. Her fight to reclaim her music and her struggle to find closure with Tommy run side by side interspersed with flashbacks in which we get this whole, strange his/herstory. Andrea Martin, another underused comic genius from SCTV plays the road manager. Mariam Shor plays Hedwig's boy-Friday in a reverse drag role carried off quite nicely.

I like the music a lot. It is decidedly punk rock but also borrows from the tradition of musicals for a strange and interesting sound. The lyrics are sophisticated and John Cameron Mitchell's delivery is spot on. The jabs at the music biz are quite funny as well. At the end of the film Hedwig/Hansel finally manages to come to some closure. He/she experiences a kind of enlightenment and ascension that Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter only dreamed of.

It's a positive, life-affirming film, it turns out. Which reminds me of something that my rabbi said. A spiritual practice is easy when the world is at peace, but you really only experience the strength of your spirit when the bullets are flying. A spiritual practice that crumbles--or that lets you crumble--as soon as things get hard is a waste of time, an empty pursuit, and really no spiritual practice at all. Hedwig illustrates this pretty well considering the way this character is able to thrive and remain sympathetic through all of her apocalyptic episodes.

As we were all in the singing mood at film's end, our hosts wheeled out the grand finale to the evening: the karaoke hookup. We did the songbook in our makeup and drag, and once we ran out of songs we wanted to render, we gathered in the living room to dance. In all, it was a 10-star space for a 10-star film. I recommend doing it up if you're going to see it.

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For your collection: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (VHS), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (DVD), Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Soundtrack)

Gooden is re-reading: Michael Moore's Stupid White Men. If it only takes a simple, earnest shlub like Michael Moore to draw a line from declining funding for schools and libraries to dropping quality of education, then think what will happen when more geniuses like us start reading this book! Garbage-mouthed pundits lambaste teachers for the sinking quality of education, but Moore reminds us that Nixon's budget cuts to education in the 70's started a downward spiral that has led to the sorry state of education today. Our "president" is now a functional illiterate who once again has trimmed education spending--by 19%! The book paints a scary picture, but Moore sense of humor helps the information invigorate readers rather than paralyze them with despair for our future.

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