Toronto
2 min

Angry rock

Because no future is now

WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET? John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig And The Angry Inch is what it sets out to be, "the best damn rock 'n' roll musical you've seen in a hell of a long time." Credit: Xtra files

What’s really exciting about Hedwig And The Angry Inch is not the fact that it’s the best damn rock ‘n’ roll musical you’ve seen in a hell of a long time; rather, it’s that the movie is really smart.



People will tell you that American Beauty or its clone, Magnolia, capture the zeitgeist of early-21st-century North America. Bullshit: Hedwig is what’s really going on.



The film has some really heavy-hitting themes. Everything is in a state of collapse: the Berlin Wall and European Communism; borders between genders; fame and infamy. And now that it’s clear that the freedom which this collapse seemed to promise is not forthcoming, we’re left with a lot of vile, bitter anger.



John Cameron Mitchell’s starring performance (he directs as well) captures all the fury of a disenfranchised generation. ‘No future,’ sang The Sex Pistols: That no future is now.



The story is straightforward: As a youth, Hansel has his penis removed so that he can be married to an American GI and escape his native East Germany. The surgeon botches the operation; the patient is left with an angry inch. Hansel becomes Hedwig and moves to the States, where her husband soon abandons her.



She becomes a gender-fucking, self-abusive punk diva with a chip on her shoulder the size of Gibraltar. Of course, eventually love rears its head in the form of a pretty teenaged rock-loving Jesus freak and Hedwig’s heart is broken all over again.



All of this is told in flashback while Hedwig and her band (The Angry Inch, of course) are touring empty supper clubs, donut stores and buffet restaurants, where they bring their aggressive brand of punk rock to the good people of the US while their publicist (Andrea Martin) tries desperately to get them some press and Hedwig tries to get back at the rock star who stole her songs and her heart.



This is truly one of the queerest of all films, but the queerness isn’t the story, per se, it’s the mish-mash of cultural references. If it’s queer, it’s in the film. Hedwig And The Angry Inch is like Nina Hagen in a Fassbinder remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with dance numbers by Bob Fosse and art direction by Todd Haynes. And there’s some Abba in there too, for good measure.



Lest we forget, Hedwig is a musical, the pinkest of all genres. And, best of all, it follows the rules of a good one. The story never, ever takes precedence over what are really well-written rock songs; the melodrama is always just tongue-in-cheek enough to make you laugh and cry at the same time. This is perhaps Hedwig’s greatest success: It is no more and no less than what it set out to be.



The movie has won audience awards at several queer film festivals and was a huge hit when it opened Inside Out this past May. It’s a must-see: It will remind you what rock ‘n’ roll is for.



Hedwig And The Angry Inch opens Fri, Jul 27 in wide release.