and the Angry Inch
bridges and blasphemy
Some loudmouth, seeking attention and plied with
drink at a late-night party in Portland last month, blurted
out a ridiculous-sounding blasphemy:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a
better movie than Rocky Horror Picture Show or
and gentlemen, whether you like it or not: Hedwig is here
Hedwig is a German-born on-the-skids rocker with
lightning-in-a-bottle charm. One angry inch is what remains
of Hedwig's manhood after a botched sex-change operation. "The
Angry Inch" is the name of Hedwig's razor-sharp, hard-rocking
Hedwig's young protégé, Tommy Gnosis,
swipes the songs and ends up Artist of the Year on the cover
of Rolling Stone.
The loudmouth was me.
Do I still believe? I do. John Cameron Mitchell,
who wrote and directed, is clearly born to be Hedwig. The supporting
actors are equally fine. The edgy, plot-carrying songs are buoyed
by Bob Mould's feisty guitar the best of the bunch cross
David Bowie with Chrissie Hynde and Hüsker Dü; there's
hard rock, rockabilly, ballads and pure pop, too. Animation
sequences add depth and historical significance to the story's
Cold War climate. And the imaginative, flashback-laden story
is colorful, bold and very, very funny.
stick: six inches forward, five inches back.
But apart from the movie's considerable virtues
as popular entertainment is an examination that strikes at the
heart and soul of humanity: the yin and yang of gender and sex.
More or less, the movie strongly suggests, we're all made from
different degrees of the same damn stuff now let's just
get on with it.
The story itself is a bit complicated, but that's
part of the fun.
Hedwig, born a little boy named Hansel in 1961,
grows up under the long shadow of the wrong side of the Berlin
Wall. The boy is abused by his American G.I. father, earns his
rock 'n' roll stripes listening to Armed Forces Radio, falls
in love with a black American soldier and, in order to marry
and thus escape to the West suffers the ill-fated
surgery. Hedwig's mother approves of the marriage, even recommends
That's when the real complications begin.
The newlyweds move to Kansas, Hedwig turns housewife,
hubby runs off with another young boy. Hedwig survives a trailer-park
existence on babysitting gigs at the military base and befriends
naive-but-earnest Tommy. They fall in love, but Tommy can't
get beyond that angry damn inch.
Eventually, separate ways they go. Both form bands.
Tommy becomes an arena-sized superstar, Hedwig follows Tommy's
tour, city by city. Tommy plays Hedwig's songs for thousands
of fans, Hedwig does a far more convincing job with the same
songs down the block at a fast-food chain in front of
sparse but loyal fans and unsuspecting dinner crowds.
But true and righteous dignity is something that
Hedwig, through it all, never loses no matter if the
rest of the world notices or not. And just like we were never
really certain the Berlin Wall would come down until it actually
did, by the time 1988 rolls around, Hedwig is primed for a little
All the while, love, rejection, perseverance and
self-actualization get deconstructed, examined and put back
together in brave new ways.
At the end of the day, we're brought to see, walls
and bridges aren't so different. Both, in fact, serve to point
out much of the world's most fascinating real estate.
Cast: "Hedwig" got off to a good start in 1997
winning the Drama Desk award for Best Off-Broadway
The perfect movie? Hardly. Some songs are less
than first rate, a few go on a little too long. And the ending,
a little less than satisfying, almost seems to telegraph "Hedwig
Part II." But then, "Rocky Horror"
and "Spinal Tap" ain't perfect, either.
"Hedwig," as award-winning Off-Broadway
play, came to life in the mid-90s. The movie, a July release,
won the People's Award and Best Director at Sundance, along
with a handful of similar such hardware around the globe; people
are starting to know it's out there. Ready or not, world, Hedwig
is here for the long haul.
All of which brings to mind some advice my doctor-friend
got from his mother half a lifetime ago.
He and I were fresh out of college, roommates
in a tough inner-city apartment. That he was born to be a distinguished
doctor was obvious, though proving it to the rest of the world
would take many more years; his first real-world step toward
medical school was as busboy at a popular restaurant. And his
mother herself a doctor and in town for a visit
insisted on stopping by to see her son, busy at his humbling
but hectic new job. That night he came home hopping mad.
"She told me," he seethed, "that
you bring your own dignity to wherever you are in life."
What made him mad, of course, is that she was