Camp, intentional and unintentional, is conspicuously absent from this grunge epic, the story of Hedwig, born Hansel, “a slip of a little girly-boy from East Berlin” who comes to America following a botched gender reassignment (hence the name of her band, the Ambassadors of Eastern Bloc Rock, “The Angry Inch,” and the film’s title) and, through the transformative power of rock n’ roll, becomes something a little bit more than man or woman but a little bit less than a star.
Co-Writer/Director/Star and later Nicole Kidman compatriot John Cameron Mitchell, working from the Off-Broadway (Squeezebox, a landmark of queer ‘90s New York) experience he developed with musician and lyricist Stephen Trask, has a dynamic and wickedly funny presence on both stage and screen, and his Hedwig is a unique creation.
We follow The Angry Inch on their Shadow Tour, performing in different Bilgewater’s restaurants (a salad-barred seafood emporium) throughout the country. And oh, those majestic songs… The naughty “Sugar Daddy” is the kind of bawdy country classic-to-be that would sound great on country radio, were country radio not a pallid xerox factory of blanditude. “The Origin of Love” is the kind of unlikely pop masterpiece that incorporates Greek mythology and philosophy into the kind of torchy ballad that Bette Midler used to tear through with gusto and verve. And the closer, “Midnight Radio,” is sheer bliss. As a whole, the film’s song score is up there with Purple Rain or Grace of My Heart, a narrative with excellent songs that endure.
Mitchell is electric as a singer and actor, and supporting turns from the late but legendary Alberta Watson (The Keep, Spanking the Monkey) and Andrea Martin (SCTV) practically shine during their screen time. The animated sequences in the film work their own curious and minimalist magic, adding yet another interesting medium for Hedwig to conquer (following theatre and cinema). For the adventurous viewer, Hedwig and The Angry Inch offers the kind of unique film experience that doesn’t often come down the bend. Have some gummi bears and enjoy the show.
Thanks to The Criterion Collection, Hedwig and The Angry Inch is finally available on blu-ray, packed with all sorts of extras, and an essential part of a comprehensive collection of modern LGBT cinema.