Lovelorn punk rocker Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) leads his band The Angry Inch across America following in the footsteps of pop rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), who is the lover who spurned her. All of the band’s songs act to tell Hedwig’s amazing story. Starting as a boy loving American pop exports while living in Berlin. Falling for a US army officer and needing to get a sex change to become his wife. The botching of that surgery leaving Hedwig with his own ‘angry inch’ and subsequent abandonment because he is left in limbo as a ‘gender of one’. Meeting Gnosis and forming the basis of the act that would schism into the two very different styles they pursue. And ultimately the madcap stalking that brings Hedwig back into Gnosis’s orbit. Featuring the music of Stephen Trask, Hedwig’s style bends gender norms, adapts the punk rock ethos of anger and lashing out, swings over to power ballads and Broadway musical kitsch, and thematically touches on unrequited love, physical and mental trauma, loss, abandonment and culminates in forgiveness and an ultimate definition of self.
The Production: 4.5/5
I come to Hedwig 20 years after its launch, without knowing more about it than that it is a celebrated picture in the LGBT community. I became more aware of it recently through the Netflix series “Sex Education” where the straight lead agrees to support his gay best friend through a cosplay celebration of the film. After watching the film and delving into the extras I can see its appeal anew in this generation, as folks across the gender and sexual orientation spectrums continue to gain acceptance and exposure, and those of us who haven’t given much thought to anything outside the mainstream need to reset our own perspectives and be more accepting to folks of all stripes. For all its brash exterior and outspoken lead character, Hedwig’s fundamental messages and themes are more relevant and universal than ever.
From the cross gender ideas in ‘The Origins of Love’ to Hedwig’s own confusion and anger about his gender status and trauma on one side, to Hedwig’s abuse of the subservient Yitzhak (Miriam Shor), the film radiates the dangers of keeping the cycle of abuse and anger going. Until Hedwig makes the unexpected choice to break the cycle, accept who he is and damn the world for not accepting him. Nevermind that the ending could be interpreted as a psychic break into delusion, whether it’s real or not doesn’t matter. Hedwig believes it to be true.
Thematically, the city of Berlin looms large in Hedwig, both as a location and a metaphor as both a bridge and a wall. America does too, with its lame Red Lobster ripoff chains, Rockstars who think nothing of ripping off true talents and claiming then as their own, and LGBT communities banding together and trying to make a living on the edges. But it’s the intersection of acting, masks and wigs, and musical theater that really wraps Hedwig all together and makes it easily accessible to audiences who might not have been open to these themes and ideas just a few years ago.
3D Rating: NA
New Line financed Hedwig as an extreme budget effort during the years it was working on the Lord of the Rings series. The crew worked miracles with the budget they had, but their inexperience and materials still betray those budget underpinnings. This 1080p transfer is taken from a 4k scan that accurately captures every bit of grain to be found in mid grade film stock circa the mid 90s to be sure, but it also accurately captures the vibrant look of Hedwig’s costumes and makeup and the grunge of mass market fish chains. The Berlin sequences in particular have an interesting patina, hazy and untrustworthy but miraculously detailed.
The 5.1 mix is certainly front heavy, with song sequences extending reverb and crowd noises into the rear nicely. The brash punk songs translate nicely, and are pretty easily understood even by someone like me who has never heard the material before.
Special Features: 5/5
Criterion continues to be the king of extras. I’ve gone through about 75% of the content and it’s all excellent.
There’s a feature length commentary from 2001
Trailer redone for this version
A “Hedwig” Reunion bringing Mitchel, Trask, and Shor back together with the DP and other crew
The Music of “Hedwig”
Whether You Like It or Not: The Story of Hedwig – A huge production about the history and other versions of the show
From the Archives
Anatomy of a Scenes
Booklet 54-pages with illustrations, photos, an essay by Stephanie Zacharek and Plato’s Symposium.
Ultimately I feel like Hedwig’s message is both more important, and more accepted today than at it’s release. While not every song resonated with me, most did, the music holds up today. And the Criterion treatment is unmatched, if you are an old fan or new to it you will find plenty of great material to help you really understand how the story came together and where it’s going from here.