Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Plato’s Symposium

(By Doug Nelson, for the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon.)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I did something I’ve never done before. I’ve been an avid (rabid?) movie fan since I was too young to remember. Even today it’s a rare day that I don’t watch at least two movies, more on weekends. But I have never, never (my inner drama queen insists I repeat this for emphasis) watched a movie and immediately turned around and watched it again from the beginning, all in one sitting.

But Hedwig and the Angry Inch caught me totally off-guard. It was not even close to what I’d expected. I rented it because of the rave reviews and the huge fan base (called Hed-heads) for its off-Broadway production. I figure any movie advertised as the next Rocky Horror has to have something going for it. Plus, I hated Moulin Rouge and really needed affirmation that the musical wasn’t dead.

Toward the beginning of the movie, we get a charming re-telling of Plato’s myth of how there used to be three types of humans on earth, each with four legs and arms, two faces, etc. Some looked like a man and a woman all rolled up together, others like two men or two women. They were so happy that the gods became jealous and split them in two, moving the scar around to our bellies so we would always remember. And now our search for love is really our search for our other split-apart half.

This search for the other half is the theme of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Of course, we all know how hard it is to find our soul mate, but what if you’re the victim of a botched sex-change operation in East Berlin before the wall comes down? Where/who/what is your other half? And if you’re less than whole, are they more than half?

The theme of split halves (people, cities, families) is repeated throughout the movie, in plot, direction, production design, even in the credits. That, plus the fact that it’s a rock musical, reminded me a great deal of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with its hammer and wall themes.

Oh yes, the music. Quite frankly, it is wonderful. Written and performed by many veterans of the glam- and punk-rock scenes, it’s delivered in many genres, and actually serves as exposition for the plot in many cases. And, as in The Wall, animated segments frequently accompany the music. As does a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along and a Tommy-esque showdown and revelation. I watched this three days ago and I still catch myself humming a few lines.

The live version played off-Broadway for four years, and is still touring the world. It was singlehandedly responsible for reinvigorating a dying neighborhood in New York, and the theater they specially built for it is still successful today, even though Hedwig is no longer performed there.

All the acting parts are pitch-perfect, honed to this perfection by their long run in New York. John Cameron Mitchell makes his directing debut here, but is also the writer and stars as Hedwig. The direction is marvelous, with scenes that will break your heart, make you roll with laughter, or simply prompt you to issue a silent, “Cool!”

Mitchell is excellent, and has many touching scenes, but the most poignant scenes in the movie belong to Miriam Shor, playing his lover. (Yes, a woman dressed as a man is in love with a man playing a man dressed as a woman.) Tangent: Mitchell in drag looks so much like Rachel Griffiths it’s scary.

Anyway, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is fun, it’s smart, it’s sad (but in that good way), and I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before.

I loved Hedwig as well and the music is great. I also agree about Moulin Rouge, which to me seemed to be designed for people with the attention spans of gnats. If you are going to make a musical, how about actually finishing a song once in a while?

Allow me to also join the “love ‘Hedwig’”/”hate ‘Moulin Rouge!’” club (though I liked the less hyperactively edited “Roxanne” and the funny “Like a Virgin” scenes -- actually, the only funny thing in the entire movie). crowd. I actually think that the former is probably the best film musical since Fosse.

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