Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask
Plot: A transsexual punk-rock girl from East Berlin tours the U.S. with her band as she tells her life story and follows the former lover/band-mate who stole her songs.
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Music
Awards: Won Teddy Award (Berlin). Won Directing Award and Audience Award (Sundance). Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Lead Actor (Comedy/Musical)
Rating: NC16 for sexual content and language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Don't you know me Kansas City? I'm the new Berlin Wall. Try and tear me down!”
For someone who directed Shortbus (2006), the notoriously explicit film charting the sexual lives of its characters with the cast performing unsimulated sex for the camera, Hedwig and the Angry Inch may seem pale in comparison.
But the debut feature of the multi-talented John Cameron Mitchell doesn't hide the fact that he is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the camera. Mitchell takes on the roles of writer, director and actor, shaping and crafting a film that is passionate about telling the story of the fictional character Hedwig.
As played by Mitchell, Hedwig is a transsexual punk-rock star, torn between a woman and a man after a woeful surgical operation. She enters into a romantic liaison with an aspiring rock star Tommy (Michael Pitt), who turns Hedwig's career upside-down.
Through Mitchell's bold performance, Hedwig and the Angry Inch calls to attention the emotional fragility of a celebrity, in this case of someone whose sexual identity is uncertain, even problematic. One might easily pigeonhole the film as part of the queer cinema movement whose themes, ideals and struggles begun to permeate into public consciousness post-2000s.
However, with the passage of time, Hedwig and the Angry Inch has now gained a cult-like status, becoming the 'Rocky Horror' for a new generation of post-millennial youths. Mitchell's performance is extraordinary, so are the rest of the supporting cast. This is the kind of picture that requires vigour and energy from its artistes, in turn translating the story creatively and musically to the big screen.
Part of its cult appeal comes not only from its standout, hum-along song sequences, but the filmmakers' marrying of fiction against history, of character against backdrop. The East-West Germany divide, a time when Hedwig grew up in, perhaps becomes a foreshadowing of the difficulties in grappling with his/her transient sexuality.
The irony is that this transience is a permanence. As much as the film is about finding one own's identity, in this case, through both sexuality and performance, it is also about acceptance, of fate and change. More than a decade since its release, Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues to be an attraction, even inspiring a Broadway musical of the same name starring actor Neil Patrick Harris in 2013.
Verdict: Full of energy and vigour, this dramatic-musical recount of a fictional transsexual punk-rock singer is best remembered as a showcase for the multi-talented writer-director-actor John Cameron Mitchell.
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