DurAnorak (duranorak) wrote,

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The rôle rocked, even if the rock didn't always roll : a quasi-review of "Hedwig And The Angry Inch"

While most of me was watching this in well-I-made-it-to-Brighton-how-am-I-going-to-get-the-bus-home? kind of mood, my brain, helpful thing that it is, was watching the film on about eighteen different levels. (Spoilers, natch - if you're that bothered, go see the movie now - yes, right now, right this second - and *then* come back and read this.)

First thing I thought after watching it was : "Hang on, I've already watched Velvet Goldmine 75 times, why should I want to see it again?" For one of the things that really struck me about the film was the almost scandalous number of similarities to Velvet Goldmine. Detailed, and in no particular order :
* Bowie. Although Bowie is never mentioned in Velvet Goldmine - principally because he wouldn't let them use any of his songs or anything, he was the major influence of the film, and he is one of them here.
* Berlin. Because Bowie and Iggy went to Berlin, Todd Haynes (VG director) sent Curt Wild and Jack Fairy there. Hedwig starts his life there, and it becomes a central theme to some of his songs.
* Rags-to-Rockstar-to-Rags-to-Rockstar. Yes, not just once, but twice - in both films. From Thomas Slade, to Brian Slade/Maxwell Demon, to coke-addled junkie, to Tommy Stone. Or, if you prefer, from Hansel Schmidt, to Hedwig, to amusingly attired prostitute, and back to Hedwig again.
* Losing it while performing. In VG, Curt Wild's performance at the Death Of Glitter concert degenerates into a manic shuddering session as he catches sight of his ex-lover in the audience. In Hedwig, Hedwig's final performance degenerates into a manic destroying-things-and-generally-going-bonkers session as he thinks about his ex-lover.
* Showbusiness stealing. In VG, Brian Slade steals, effectively, style - from Jack Fairy. In Hedwig, rock star Tommy Gnosis gets not only his style, but his name and his songs, from Hedwig.
* Crap audiences at festivals. No, this one doesn't feature two loudmouthed lads shouting "Wanker", just an audience of one. But it's still a similarity worth bearing in mind alongside all the others.
* Moments of surreality in between scenes.
* Songs used to tell the story.
* Failed hospital treatment. In VG, Curt Wild was screwed up by shock treatment intended to "fry the fairy clean out of him". In Hedwig, Hedwig him-her-itself was screwed up by a sex-change operation that went wrong.
I think there were more, but you don't really need them to see what I mean. I sat through until the end of the credits and, to my surprise and amusement, Todd Haynes was given thanks - but I wonder if he realised just how much of his own masterpiece would be used. Even *more* entertaining was the fact that David Bowie was also thanked - he gave them full permission to use him for whatever they wanted. Perhaps he's now realised that he could have made some money off VG if he'd done the same - who knows?

Anyway, that aside, Hedwig And The Angry Inch is a very good film. I'm pleased about this, because so often you hear a lot about something and get all excited and then it fails to deliver, but this met all expectations, even if it didn't exactly exceed them. (Oh, look - there's another similarity to Velvet Goldmine for you.)
John Cameron Mitchell, who, of course, wrote and directed and starred in the film, is uncompromisingly brilliant. I have before me an article from the Telegraph in which he said, "The other people who've played Hedwig don't look as good in close-up as a woman, so I thought I should do it in the film." Despite having an ego which is clearly slightly bigger than an inch, he's definitely got a point - he absolutely looks the part; more manly than a true woman, but far more feminine than your average drag artiste. Although he didn't write Hedwig's songs, he did sing them himself (a definite downside of some of Velvet Goldmine) and his voice is very beautiful indeed, also having that mix of male and female that the part required.
The film was funny. The film was clever. The film was crude in some places, but never for long enough to truly make me cringe. Though most of the screen time is given entirely to Hedwig, the backing band played their parts equally perfectly, in particular the backing-singer and wig-maker, whose name escapes me at the moment - I'll do some research later; not because I want to know who played that par, but I really wouldn't mind knowing who the pianist with the glittery lipstick was.
The songs were pretty much universally splendid, and I can only hope they're going to release the soundtrack. The Telegraph hinted that the only genuinely good song was "The Origin Of Love", which is indeed the song at the heart of the film, but by no means the only good one - "Tear Me Down", the first song, and "Sugar Daddy" - don't ask - are, respectively, one hell of a rock song and an hilarious, brilliantly crafted tune à la Rocky Horror. "Angry Inch" is a sight less tuneful but no less powerful. And John Cameron Mitchell, as I've said before, has a stunning voice.
I'm always slightly annoyed when films don't go the way I want them to - hence the fanfic, I suppose - and this was no exception. I would always prefer a truly happy ending, rather than an ending that seems to say "Well, things are crap *now*, but in ten years' time he'll probably be ok." Although this is infinitely preferable to everyone dying at the end, it's still very frustrating when it's so close to being right, and I certainly got the feeling that the only reason the relationship between Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis wasn't resolved was that no-one expects that to happen these days. But it's a film, and not even a consistently realistic one at that - why shouldn't it have a fairytale ending? That was one of the huge strengths of the brilliant French film "Ma Vie En Rose", the story of a young boy who believes himself to be a girl inside, which finishes with him flying off through the clouds with the doll whose world he has always wanted to live in, finally dressed and accepted as a girl. Films and TV programmes defend themselves against criticism of their content by saying that they are only reflecting the harsh reality of life. Perhaps if they occasionally showed things going right for people, our outlook might be more positive and the situation might improve.
That said, you can either watch Hedwig And The Angry Inch as a moral tale about finding yourself, complete with references to Plato, (as did the Telegraph,) or you can watch it as an uplifting, if sometimes tragic, autobiography of a beautiful (wo)man, with some f***ing good songs thrown in as well.
I know which one I'd go for.


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