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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
(directed by John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)

A fabulous movie... if only the very end of this movie could grab a hold of me and really make me understand it without needing to turn to IMDB.com's Hedwig message board for an answer. Everything before the last 15-20 minutes of the film is really fabulous, but the ending becomes all symbolism and confusion.

I have seen this movie countless times over the years -- in fact, I saw it when it first arrived in theaters back in July of 2001. It played in Washington D.C. at a little movie theater in Dupont Circle (the GAY part of Washington D.C.) that I would years later work at briefly (back in 2006) before it would close for good the following year. When I saw Hedwig back in 2001, Ghost World was playing there at the same time. I love that movie now, but I unfortunately did not see it at that theater (I wish I had!) I remember a long line of people waiting to get in and Ghost World was completely sold out. I was so intrigued by the Ghost World movie -- something I had never heard anything about until I stood in line to buy Hedwig tickets -- that I wanted to see it more than Hedwig. A new person I had met who was with me to see Hedwig seemed to want to see Ghost World more, too -- I wasn't surprised as she looked like she belonged in the movie Ghost World. It would be a year before I did see Ghost World. The two of us had just come to D.C. to see a mutual friend who was dying to see Hedwig -- he had introduced me to a book based on the play the year before because of my interest in Rocky Horror Picture Show (I couldn't get into the Hedwig book, though.)

Anyway, the combination of those films playing together (Ghost World and Hedwig) and me being there for it is probably why I chose them as my top two films of the millenium. To me, they sort of represent some sort of awakening, I guess, in my life, of new and different films, and of a new and different chapter in my life. It wouldn't be long before I joined Movie Forums, too.

I didn't like Hedwig and the Angry Inch very much when I first saw it. I came out of that movie theater feeling very indifferent (and probably obnoxiously complaining to my Hedwig fan friend how much I wish I had seen Ghost World instead -- and my instincts were right, I instantly loved that film -- but I do believe it turned out best that I saw it a year later.) Anyway, I didn't get Hedwig, and I think it was largely because of that confusing ending, but that's not all. My friend kept telling me that Hedwig was like Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I totally expected it to be like that. It ended up being, I think, NOTHING like Rocky Horror Picture Show. Instead, it was this really deep, really personal story, and to me at the time, it was like some sort of strange hippie fest or something. I mean, when that "Origin of Song" song first came on with the cartoon, I was like, W.T.F.?

"They had two sets of arms... they had two sets of legs."

I just kept thinking, why does my friend really like this movie??? This is so unusual. And I know he took me to see it sort of because I was a new member of the gay community back then and he must have figured this movie would be my style, but it really wasn't. I liked drag queens and transsexuals just fine, sure, but this movie... this Hedwig... I didn't get it. I did not get it. Maybe it was because I was seventeen? I hadn't had much experience with love and relationships and changing as a person and all that yet. Now, at twenty-nine (God, how time flies), I feel more in tune with Hedwig's story. I have - unfortunately - had some experiences that help me feel more connected with the movie. Strangely, in some bizarre ways, the Hedwig movie has MATCHED my own life autobiographically. When Hedwig sits alone in a chair and watches her sugar daddy who took her away from home take off with another man and leave her behind with nothing -- when Hedwig watches the rest of the world celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall while Hedwig feels completely trapped and miserable in her own life -- I've been there. I have so been there. I know what it feels like to wear Hedwig's shoes. Damn, maybe I never should have seen Hedwig -- perhaps then it wouldn't have blended into my own life.

John Cameron Mitchell is also heavily involved with a gay group called the Radical Faeries -- this group would later heavily influence his next film, Shortbus -- I, years later, and especially right after my own little Hedwig life parallel, met some real Radical Faeries and even attended a Radical Faerie group meeting. None of this is really all that exciting and special, but it's interesting to me how these connections can all lead me back to Hedwig.

Now for a plot summary: Hedwig and the Angry Inch deals with a gay guy who grew up in East Berlin, moved to America to be with a big black sugar daddy, got a botched sex changed that left him with a one inch mound of flesh (where his penis used to be) and he later performs in a band called The Angry Inch -- but the movie could not happen until he meets Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt), a young guy whom Hedwig falls for. After Tommy steals all of Hedwig's music, Hedwig stalks him by traveling across the country with his band and manager and performing at salad bars (much to the horror of everybody who's just trying to eat there) located close to Tommy's entertainment venue. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is largely Hedwig's life story, centering on her disastrous relationship with Tommy.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rollicking romp and pretty entertaining -- if, I think, it's your speed. It's taken me years to adjust to this movie. It is a movie that I think in its own way stalks me just like how Hedwig goes on stalking Tommy. I only wish it had a more satisfying ending. If I ever get to a point where I really feel satisfied by that ending, then I think it would signify a total evolution for myself. For perhaps Hedwig's own transformation at the end of this movie is somehow connected to my own transformations.

I do recommend Hedwig and the Angry Inch to general audiences, though, because I think that, understandable to you or not, it features some rather amusing bits. And, fortunately, you never get to see that one inch mound of flesh. Just a bare butt -- which I didn't even care for because it was Hedwig's.