Transexual Glam-Metal Hits the Big Screen: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

'Hedwig and the Angry Inch' creator says off-Broadway musical was always

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

to a

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

country and

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

cabaret."

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" opens on Friday.