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Headwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch In the feature-length documentary that accompanies the cult movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the film's creators point out that very few so-called "rock musicals" actually rock. They're usually either stiff and stilted, or the music is just lame theatrical pop masquerading as its tougher downtown progenitor.

With its birth in New York clubs (specifically gay drag bars) and its initial live production in a seedy West Side hotel, Hedwig and the Angry Inch has no such problem establishing its street cred, and manages to capture that sassy, punk-glam attitude on celluloid without sacrificing soul for style.

Triple-threat John Cameron Mitchell wrote, directed and stars in this tale of an East Berlin boy who finds freedom by sacrificing his manhood so he can marry a U.S. army officer and flee to the promised land. But the operation is botched, leaving him with the titular "angry inch." Abandoned on the base by his husband, Hedwig begins the long slow climb from being a semi-transsexual Cold War bride to becoming the bewigged darling of the glam-rock seafood restaurant circuit.

Careening from gleeful satire - one hilarious moment has the band performing on a tiny stage at the female music festival Menses Fair - to intense drama with overtones of Greek philosophy (you don't have to brush up on your Plato, but it doesn't hurt either), the film never loses sight of its focus on Hedwig's search for identity and his "other half." He's obsessed with confronting goth pop star Tommy Gnosis, formerly Hedwig's teenage army base lover Tommy Speck, and carries on a volatile affair with band member and "Man Friday Through Thursday" Yitzhak, played in not-quite-convincing male drag by Miriam Shor.

Sadly, Hedwig's underdeveloped relationship with Yitzhak is one of the film's few weak aspects, alieviated somewhat by the addition of a flashback showing how they met at a Croatian drag show, which can be found among the deleted scenes. But for much of the movie, Yitzhak remains a puzzle for the viewer that never feels fully assembled.

You can almost feel the cult growing around this film, even as the film skewers cult followings; the band's fans, called Hed Heads, wear styrofoam versions of Hedwig's outrageous wigs. But Hedwig and the Angry Inch never indulges in camp for camp's sake, and its rock tunes are authentic thanks to the involvement of underground heroes like Girls Against Boys and Bob Mould. Mitchell keeps Hedwig grounded, and we feel a connection to the character that helps separate the film from its over-the-top forerunners, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise.

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