Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Movie Information

The Asheville Film Society will screen Hedwig and the Angry Inch Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Genre: Rock Musical/Comedy/Drama
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Starring: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Andrea Martin
Rated: R

John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch was one of the most delightful surprises of 2001, and it has lost none of its charm or its surprising power in the intervening years. Mitchell seems determined—based on two films as of 2010—to take the most outlandish, outrageous and potentially offensive material and turn it into something so sweet-tempered and human that it’s irresistable. That’s certainly the case here with the saga of transexual East German rocker Hansel/Hedwig (Mitchell) and his/her attempts to find happiness and success in the U.S. Raunchy, campy and satirical the film may be, but it’s finally a story of self-discovery and self-realization that makes it something else again.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a film that very much benefits from multiple viewings. Much as I’d admired it on its original release, it was only after its release to DVD that I truly came to appreciate every aspect of the film. (That’s also why—if anyone bothers to check—it didn’t make my Top 10 list for 2001. A year later—and even today—it would hold the number two position. I blame New Line for not sending out screeners during award season.) This is not to say that it’s a film for everybody (whatever that exactly means). First of all, the story about a rock star (even an “internationally ignored” one) who is the victim of a botched sex-change operation—leaving him with the angry inch of the title—is not going to be to everyone’s liking. Nor is the manner the film plays with gender identity going to be comfortable for everyone.

For that matter, there are some viewers who will simply have problems with the rock music itself—and make no mistake, Stephen Trask’s songs are rock. A few of them—especially “The Origin of Love” and “Wig in a Box”—qualify as lighter, more broadly accessible numbers, but most are straight up glam-rock pieces. In fact, the film itself finally feels as much—or more—like a concept album than it does a movie. Its ending sequence is given over to three songs without dialogue being involved, and the line between reality and fantasy is completely blurred, offering a climax that is more felt than literally depicted. Indeed—as I said some time back in a piece on John Cameron Mitchell—the very end of the film has an effect that is more like the cumulative punch of listening to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars—with “Midnight Radio” taking the place of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”—than anything else. But why not? After all, Bowie in that era was one of the most inherently cinematic of all rock musicians.

Still, I hope people will try to overcome their prejudices—musical or otherwise—and see what a unique and remarkable film Mitchell made with this.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “Hedwig and the Angry Inch

  1. twinkie223

    “How did some slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?”

  2. Steven Adam Renkovish

    I saw this film around the time it was released on VHS and DVD. I worked at the local Movie Gallery, and we had ONE VHS copy in the whole store. A took it home, based on a fellow employee’s recommendation, and I’ve loved it ever since. The music, the characters – all of it. An amazing film on so many levels. The tone of the film constantly shifts from campy to bittersweet, and this is the main element that struck me, as I was expecting another ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. As much as I love ROCKY HORROR, I’ve never been able to take any of it seriously – I highly doubt that it is supposed to be taken as such. HEDWIG was another matter entirely. The direction from John Cameron Mitchell is fantastic, as is his performance as Hedwig. I do hope that I can make it to this screening on Tuesday. That would be a treat.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I do hope that I can make it to this screening on Tuesday. That would be a treat.

    If you make it, make your presence known.

  4. Jessica B.

    “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” won best drama at Sundance the same year “Southern Comfort” won best documentary. Interesting that two films with transgender themes would win in the same year. The two together could make for an interesting double feature.

  5. Ken Hanke

    The two together could make for an interesting double feature.

    Considering the kind of turnout docs get locally, I’m skeptical of programming them, though.

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