Hedwig And The Angry Inch
Although trendy magazines and music columnists like to haul out the tombstones on a regular basis, the only place where rock is truly dead is on Broadway, which could never capture its primal intensity and still hope to draw the blue-haired ladies from out of town. Posed as an alternative to cheesy rock musicals like Rent, not to mention the many other bombastic atrocities committed with an electric guitar, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's Hedwig And The Angry Inch was (and continues to be) a major hit off-Broadway. Because much of its story, about a corrosive and wildly unpopular glam-rock band booked into tiny venues next to overproduced arena shows, takes direct aim at its Broadway counterparts, Hedwig was bound to lose something in the translation from stage to screen. But while Mitchell's flat, uninspired direction can't keep the floorboards from creaking, the power of the material is irrepressible, weaving consistently infectious and memorable songs through an operatic tale that's by turns playful, witty, and disarmingly emotional. Though touted as the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, if only for being a musical with a cult sensibility, Hedwig has much more in common with Todd Haynes' underrated Velvet Goldmine, another look at sexual identity upended by glam rock. In a bravura performance, Mitchell reprises his stage role as the title character, an androgynous would-be rock star who performs as a woman but hasn't entirely lost her manhood ("the angry inch"), thanks to a botched sex-change operation. After a short-lived marriage to an American G.I. (Maurice Dean Wint) transplants her from East Berlin to a trailer park in Kansas, Mitchell meets and falls in love with Michael Pitt, a 17-year-old Army brat and Jesus freak whom she molds into a future glam-rock superstar. But while Pitt tops the charts and sells out stadium shows using the songs they wrote together, the uncredited Mitchell and her band play the 9th Stage at Menses Fair ("a celebration of women and music") and behind the sneeze-guards at a chain of seafood buffets. As in most musicals, the songs tell the story in Hedwig, which backtracks gracefully through various periods in her life, cued by the exhilarating performance scenes. Though some of the episodes are excessively broad and campy, the heart of the film is the relationship between Mitchell and Pitt, a complex codependency tangled in mutual vulnerability, exploitation, and affection. Stripping away thick layers of irony, Hedwig comes to terms with its hero's identity, both as an androgynous being and an artist destined for obscurity. And, in the true off-Broadway spirit, it seems content with its place in the margins.