November 12, 2010

Queer Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

It's obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something else; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants, and like an oracle it hides behind a riddle. -From Plato's Symposium

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a roaring quasi-musical about a transsexual rock singer - Hedwig/Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) - who tours the U.S. giving concerts in run down venues while pursuing his ex-boyfriend Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) who has gained fame and popularity by stealing Hedwig's songs.

The plot is little more then Hedwig giving his performances, with interludes where he describes his back-story of growing up in east Berlin to his band mates. Desperate to escape the terrible conditions behind the Berlin wall, he ends up falling in love with an American GI, and then having a sex change operation that goes horribly wrong and leaves him with an "angry inch". After that, he sees all of his efforts wasted when his lover leaves him on the same day the Berlin wall comes down.

The Berlin Wall of course functions as an obvious metaphor for Hedwig/Hansel's divided life. He does not know if he is male or female and like Aristophanes explanation for the origins of love in Plato's Symposium - which the Hedwig tells at one point - he is searching for his missing half. The story of Hedwig therefore, is a story of her odyssey to become whole.

This is a bawdy film, with John Cameron Mitchel's furious - yet quite nuanced - performance being the most memorable. The musical scenes are wild and over the top, with a couple of sentimental numbers to balance things out. This is the good stuff, hard classic rock-n-roll, with no over synthesized auto tuned crap to be found.

This is a great movie, wild, fun, and with enough of a philosophical undercurrent to give the film some gravitas. It's rare to find a film that is both highly visceral and genuinely intellectual, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of them.

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