12 April 2009

The Decade List: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - dir. John Cameron Mitchell

As fictional rock n roll films go, there's no beating Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which blows its competition away (pun probably intended) in both music and depth. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is consistently surprising on both levels. Compared to any film to tackle the issue of gender directly, the film's nuances and thoughtfulness are refreshing, but that it handles everything it puts on its plate with the same sort of freshness is all the more worthy of praise. Adapted by John Cameron Mitchell from his stage musical, its comparisons to Rocky Horror Picture Show are pure surface, as Rocky revels in its "camp" transvestitism while Hedwig does not. Its comments about gender, lost love and fame come from something organic. Mitchell's strength (and maybe his weakness, too) derive from humanism, but in both this and the later Shortbus, it's hard to imagine having a better time watching a film about the tribulations of being displaced.

Also of interest is the cover album Wig in a Box, which features a bunch of awesome musicians doing their own versions of the film's incredible soundtrack. Some of the highlights include Frank Black doing "Sugar Daddy," Yoko Ono and Yo La Tengo doing "Hedwig's Lament/Exquisite Corpse" and The Polyphonic Spree doing "Wig in a Box." Sleater-Kinney, Rufus Wainwright, Fred Schneider, Robyn Hitchcock, The Breeders, Spoon, Ben Kweller, Ben Folds, Ben Lee, Cyndi Lauper, the Minus 5 and even Stephen Colbert also show up. Like the soundtrack to most any musical (except, maybe, Xanadu), the songs are better suited inside of the film, but Wig in a Box is certainly worth a listen or two.

With: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Michael Pitt, Andrea Martin, Alberta Watson, Stephen Trask, Maurice Dean Wint, Sook Yin-Lee
Screenplay: John Cameron Mitchell, based on the play by Mitchell and Stephen Trask
Cinematography: Frank G. DeMarco
Music: Stephen Trask, John Cameron Mitchell
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Fine Line Features

Premiere: 19 January 2001 (Sundance)

Awards: Directing Award, Audience Award: Dramatic (Sundance); Teddy: Best Feature Film (Berlin); Outstanding Film: Limited Release (GLAAD Media Awards); Actor in a Leading Role - John Cameron Mitchell, Actress in a Supporting Role - Miriam Shor (LA Outfest); Audience Award (San Francisco International Film Festival); Best First Feature (San Francisco International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival)

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