Published Jul 01, 2001A self-described "post-punk, neo-glam rock musical," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is pure pleasure. Creator John Cameron Mitchell has taken his popular and successful off-Broadway play about an East German transsexual rock singer's life and transformed it into a wonderful film. Hedwig: The Movie does amazingly well at altering the inherently theatrical stage piece to work just as well, if not better, on film by using the medium creatively. Mitchell's fantastic direction uses stick figure drawings and animation, dream and fantasy sequences, flashbacks, and, of course, songs to relay Hedwig's life story from her boyhood in East Berlin, through her botched sex change operation (which left her with just "the angry inch" referred to in the title), her brief stint as a bored middle American housewife to her current state as the "internationally ignored songstress" living in the shadow of her former protege/lover rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt).
The film is structured as a series of concerts as Hedwig and her band of Slavic rockers tour seafood restaurant chains in the wake of the Gnosis stadium tour (in the hopes of both capitalising on their past relationship and exposing Tommy Gnosis's stealing Hedwig's songs for his hit records). It's great and beyond rare to actually see a musical that actually has decent music. With each phrase another echo of some 70s gender-bending rock icon emerges from the score: Bowie, Lou Reed, T-Rex, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith. The songs run the stylistic gamut from spewing punk to tender ballad, raucous rockabilly to fabulous glam. In between the songs, Hedwig tells her tragicomic life story through witty on-stage monologues. For fans of the stage version, some of the good one-liners and a few songs or parts of songs are missing from the film, making the movie a little more sad and sweet and less sassy than the play (though the story is still plenty clever and twisted). Almost hidden amidst the bizarre tales, clever commentary, insane costumes, and amazing music is actually a very simple story of one person's struggle for completion. Hedwig is the eternal outsider, always straddling the grey area between polar opposites man and woman, East and West, success and failure. Her search for love and acceptance, especially from herself, underscores the whole film and gives it its heart. This combination of this simple and universal struggle with the outrageous situation and way it plays out is the key to the film's lasting impact.