What do you get when you cross a ripped-off, begrudged German transsexual with a band of Eastern-bloc garage rockers on a tour of strip-mall seafood restaurants? Easily one of the most twisted, hard rocking, originalconcepts for a musical to hit the big screen since "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch," adapted from the smash off-Broadway play of the same name, brings with it a moral of self-appreciation packaged as a rock and roll adventure.
It's the story of Hansel, a boy in East Berlin who yearns to find love in the
form of his
"other half," following the Greek philosopher Plato's theory
that humans were split in two by Zeus and are on a quest
to regain wholeness by finding their severed half. The half Hansel finds is
an American soldier.
The GI agrees to take Hansel over the wall to freedom only after he submits
sex change operation, which goes very
wrong and leaves him with a one-inch mound of flesh between his legs
an "angry inch," as it were.
Hansel, now Hedwig, settles in Kansas and, after her soldier boy leaves
her, forms a band, and finds a new guy who steals her songs and rockets to worldwide fame while brokenhearted Hedwig remains "internationally ignored." She embarks on a tour of Bildgewater restaurants, where she recounts her tragic tale to bewildered diners of fish sticks and early-bird surf-and-turf specials.
The film's writer, director and star, John Cameron Mitchell, and musicalcomposer Stephen Trask describe their post-punk, neo-glam rock music, a true odyssey.
"Hedwig is on a quest," said Mitchell, "she's on a quest as much as
Jason and the Argonauts, as much as the boy
in 'A.I.,' she's looking for something. She's looking for her other half and she's on tour. Monsters, Cyclops maybe they're her mom? appear on various islands."
"It's very Greek," added Stephen Trask, who wrote the music and lyrics.
That music plays a major role in the storytelling. Aside from the flashbacks,
most scenes take place onstage, where the songs unravel Hedwig's plight
and drive the plot, rather than support scripted dialogue. The
performance segments were shot using live vocals as opposed to
lip-synching to a prerecorded track which adds raw grit to scenes
meant to come off less than polished. On songs ranging from punk and glam to
piano ballads, Trask was aided in the studio by a band that included
former Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould, a confessed Hed-head, as
"Hedwig" fans are known.
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" started as a cabaret performance before
beginning a two-year off-Broadway run in 1998, where the show quickly
became a cult hit, drawing downtown hipsters and celebrities alike.
Though Mitchell conceived the story with a cinematic vision in mind, he
translated his mental images into words for the stage. For the screen
adaptation, which shows the band at various stops along the tour instead
of the play's portrayal of just one show, he was able to revert back to
his original ideas.
"It was really fun to be able to show things that you could only talk
about in the play," Mitchell said. "We could show our version of Berlin
and the little boy who eventually becomes a woman images that
were only described [verbally] in the play. It was just Hedwig saying,
'This is what happened.' There was the sense of a flashback [in the
play] because the lights would change and sometimes the band would
become other people, but you were always aware that Hedwig is in a
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opens on Friday.