Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
New Line Cinema, July 20, 2001 (US)
Screenplay: Text by John Cameron Mitchell, music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, adapted from a work for the stage
Starring: John Cameron Mitchell
Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt): Have you accepted Jesus Christ as you personal Lord and savior?
Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell): No but I ... I love his work.
Bitch, please! He insisted I would like it. Yeah, right. No really, this one was different. Whatever. Trust me. Mmmhmm.
Not surprisingly … well, I think you can guess where this is headed. A thousand times over, he was right and I was wrong. This one really was different. How great is it when something manages to rise above your preconceived notions and baggage and find a way not only to surprise but to absolutely delight. Is that egg on your face, Miss Pessimist? Maybe you don’t quite know everything after all (not even about yourself).
So this is my story. I call it a love story. It is a delightful and surprising tale of how one Negative Nelly pulls a stick out of her ass just in time to fall madly and deeply in love with a transsexual “beauty” queen, the internationally ignored rock star named Hedwig. So there! I admit it although doing so still manages to give me pause, but let me repeat, I love you Hedwig!
Hedwig: Then love the front of me!
What was happening here? What would be next? An affinity for Sunday night showtunes at Sidetrack? A newfound desire to sashay around town in Wicked and Lion King T-shirts? Fish net stockings, anyone? A b-line to the L’Oréal aisle? I can just about hear RuPaul commanding me, “Lip sync for your life!” Of course, I would then promptly oblige.
“I put on some make-up, turn on the tape deck
And pull the wig back on my head
Suddenly I’m Miss Midwest Midnight Checkout Queen”
-from “Wig in a Box”
Since this is turning into a tell-all of sorts, I have to confess that it wasn’t just Hedwig that I fell for. Clearly, a certain someone else deserved mentioning here, having had more than a little something to do with all of this madness: Mr. John Cameron Mitchell. Not only does he write and direct this wonderful film but the energy behind his performance is absolutely mind-blowing. I have to say it did nothing short of grab me by the balls and squeeze the narrow-mindedness right out of my puny little head! And it isn’t just because he dons a few wacky wigs and prances around in some great drag either. It is Mitchell’s ability to make Hedwig’s quest for identity heartfelt and universal that I connected to and that undoubtedly helped make the musical and film a far-reaching cult phenomenon. It is surely deserving the greatest honor that this world could ever bestow upon a woman; translated: an Oprah Winfrey/Pearl Cleage salute, “Hedwig, we speak your name!”
“It’s all because of you
It’s all because of you
It’s all because of you”
-from “Wig in a Box”
Seriously, who can’t relate to wanting to get the very best out of life and doing whatever it takes to go for the prize? Who isn’t willing to sacrifice all for ultimate freedom and happiness? Okay, maybe we’re all not as ready for a Lorena Bobbitt-style sacrifice but still, who hasn’t felt the angst of a mid-life crisis? Who doesn’t want to find love or be loved? Who, at one time or another, hasn’t wished for a way to hide from it all, to be invisible, to slip inside an alter ego perhaps if only for a chance to start anew?
Tommy: What is that?
Hedwig: It’s what I have to work with.
And oh yes, the songs. Stephen Trask’s music is as intoxicating and on fire as a bottle of 100% agave-infused tequila. It’s punk and rock with a slice of country too. Down the hatch! Hell, even the ballads that typically make my skin crawl in other musicals—picture an old hag in the audience a row behind me during a London production of Cats crooning her very own off-key version of “Memory”—were a revelation here. Clearly, Trask’s New York underground Squeezebox rock roots were not only put to good use but were perhaps the secret ingredient that pulled it all together. No offense intended to the great Andrew Lloyd Weber or Stephen Sondheim or any of the others, but let’s be honest, just as punk rock is not everyone’s cup of tea, an evening of Starlight Express musical roller derby is something I have to say is just downright creepy and wrong. But Hedwig is the shit, the real deal. What great fun!
Hedwig: When it comes to huge openings, a lot of people think of me.
It’s funny when you hear stories about how the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch didn’t catch on at first. It was too punk or too rock for the Broadway crowd or for gay crowds. It was too gay for the straight crowds, too this for the that crowd. How fucking boring we can all be times! It’s not like I’m excluding myself here either. Remember, my own ignorance almost cock-blocked me from ever experiencing this joy ride to begin with. Luckily, I ultimately listened to you. Now I have this experience to serve as a reminder to be less stuck in my ways next time around, to never be too stubborn to take chances in life. You just never know what rewards are out there waiting.