the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

New Line Home Cinema presents

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

"It is clear I must find my other half. But is it a he, or a she? What does this person look like? Identical to me, or somehow complementary? Does my other half have what I don't? Did he get the looks, the luck, the love? And what about sex? Is that how we put ourselves back together again? Or can two people actually become one again?"- Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell)

Stars: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Andrea Martin, Michael Pitt
Other Stars: Stephen Trask, Theodore Liscinski, Rob Campbell, Michael Aranov, Ben Mayer-Goodman, Alberta Watson
Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:31m:27s
Release Date: 2001-12-11
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AA+ A+


DVD Review

"Don't you know me, Kansas City? I'm the new Berlin Wall. Try and tear ME down!" - Hedwig

In 1994, actor John Cameron Mitchell and musician Stephen Trask started working on a rock musical. With just the barest sketches of an idea, they worked on it until they had something rather unique. A rock opera in the truest sense of the word (that is, it really rocks), Hedwig and the Angry Inch premiered off-Broadway in New York in 1998. Since then, there have been performances all around the globe. In 2000, they made a movie out of it, with John Cameron Mitchell doing triple duties as writer, director, and star. The show already had a rabid cult following (a truly wonderful group of people known as "Hedheads"), and the movie only brought more to the fold. Funny, daring, and emotionally poignant, Hedwig has already achieved cult classic status, and stands as a new pinnacle of its genre.

"How did some slip of a girly-boy from Communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you? - Hedwig

Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hansel, a young, gay, East German boy. His mother tells him, at an early age, that people used to be two people together in one body, until the gods got angry and tore them apart. What we are today is only half of a whole being, and we're all searching for our other half. Hansel is heavily influenced by this story, and searches for his other half, but to no avail. Aching to get out of East Berlin, he meets Luther (Maurice Dean Wint), a U.S. army officer. Luther will marry Hansel and take him to America, but to get out he has to have a sex change. As fate would have it, the operation is botched, and Hansel (now Hedwig) is left with a one-inch mound of flesh. Luther leaves Hedwig, and Hedwig meets Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt); they fall in love, and start collaborating on songs. She changes his name to Tommy Gnosis, but he leaves her when he discovers her "secret." Crushed, Hedwig goes on tour in shanty restaurants, shadowing Tommy's hit tour.

"Please don't do it, sweetie, please don't say anything to him today. If you do, he's got the power, you know what I mean? He's got the power!" - Phyliss

There are two reasons Hedwig works so well: John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Mitchell is, literally, a revelation; he becomes Hedwig in a way that very few actors can ever inhabit a part. And he's so expressive: a purse of the lips, a flash of the eyes, and he's conveyed more emotion in a second than most movies do in their full running time. As a writer, he's remarkably mature. The script is magical, weaving together drop-dead hilarious jokes with serious emotions that all fit together. The drama and the humor run into each other, so the audience doesn't ever feel like the emotions are contrived, or that the movie tries to juggle between them. As a director, he shows a good sense of timing and an ability to shift styles at the drop of a hat. Plus, he's willing to learn, which is always important. If Mitchell never does anything after Hedwig, he'd still be a considerable talent, but I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from him in the future.

Stephen Trask's songs are as important to the film as Mitchell's contributions. Hedwig sees the world through a musical frame, and Trask provides that frame; if the songs weren't top notch, we wouldn't care as much about Hedwig's plight. But Trask proves again and again that he's a master songwriter. He can do powerful rockers (Tear Me Down, Angry Inch, Exquisite Corpse), tender ballads (Wicked Little Town and Hedwig's Lament), country-tinged pop (Sugar Daddy), Broadway-like tunes (Wig in a Box) and some that can only be described as instant classics (Origin Of Love and Midnight Radio). Every song is the cream-of-the-crop, and each shows another facet of Hedwig's character and story. This is the best collection of songs written for any musical, rock opera or not, period.

"Rain falls hard/Burns dry/A dream or a song/That hits you so hard/Filling you up/And suddenly gone." - Hedwig, from Midnight Radio

In the character of Hedwig, John Cameron Mitchell has found a perfect voice. Seemingly hard, yet inwardly tender, neglected and abused, Hedwig takes all that life throws at her and rises above it. Not only that, but she makes art out of it. Hedwig's story is really universal. While some people might wonder what they have in common with a German transsexual punk rocker, the truth is that they have everything in common. Everyone has been hurt; everyone knows the pain of loss. What we've got in Hedwig is a funny, powerful, life-affirming, and ultimately uplifting tale that's packaged with incredible songs, excellent acting, and a sense of excitement and fun that's gone missing from the movies lately.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This transfer is the cleanest I've seen Hedwig look. And considering I've seen it more than twelve times, in three different theaters and several TV screens, that's saying something. Still, no matter what, the movie was shot on a very low budget, and the grain factor is sometimes high. But it was like that in the theaters, so I'm not complaining. The color reproduction is very well done. From the bright pinks of Menses Fair to the deep blues of Tommy's version of Wicked Little Town, every color is solid and true. Blacks are deep, and the whole image is just very pleasing. No artifacting exists anywhere on this disc. This is the best way to see Hedwig.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This is also the best way to hear Hedwig. The DTS track here is pitch perfect. From the opening roar of Tear Me Down, the sound is loud and raucous, with a very heavy bass presence. The song scenes often have a subtle echo effect in the rear speakers, to simulate being in the venue: genius. When things calm down, the audio engineers have a field day, placing in subtle sound effects, from a bird's warble in an outdoor scene, to a cash register in the coffee shop where Hedwig sings Wicked Little Town. I heard everything I heard in the theater and then some. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is less satisfying. The guitars don't roar as much, the bass is quieter and the surround effects are harder to discern. Still, if you don't have a DTS receiver, the DD 5.1 mix isn't bad. A 2.0 mix is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director/Writer/Star John Cameron Mitchell and Director of Photography Frank DeMarco
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a New Line Platinum Edition DVD, and it shows how much New Line has committed to this premiere DVD format.

Whether You Like It or Not: The Story of Hedwig
A massive documentary, running over 85 minutes, Whether You Like It or Not is just about all you'll ever need to know about Hedwig as a phenomenon. Starting with Mitchell and Trask's first meeting on an airplane, and finishing with Mitchell winning best director at the Sundance Film Festival, this documentary leaves no stone unturned. We see footage from early club appearances to clips from the stage show, as well as seeing who else donned the famous wig. Interviews with Mitchell, Trask, and just about everyone else involved with the development of the play and film make sure that the audience knows the story firsthand. This is one of the most impressive documentaries I've seen produced exclusively for DVD. Even as a Hedhead, I learned things that I didn't know before, and I'm sure this documentary has something new for everyone.

Commentary with John Cameron Mitchell and director of photography Frank DeMarco
As much as you think you know after seeing Whether You Like It or Not, there's still more to learn. Mitchell and DeMarco talk about their experiences on the film, as well as letting the audience in on in-jokes, film techniques and influences, and the true nature of the doll in the oven. While there are a few moments of short silence near the end of the film, Mitchell and DeMarco talk through most of its running time, without degenerating into useless chatter. For those of you who haven't "had dinner" with John Cameron Mitchell, this is a pretty good way to learn about the film through the eyes of the creator.

Deleted Scenes
While only two deleted scenes are listed on the menu, there are actually more. The first one is actually a very extended sequence (from the mall/Laundromat) that includes Phyliss' implant phone, an alternate take of the confrontation outside the record store, and Yitzhak's backstory, which some people felt should have been in the film. Running ten and a half minutes, this collection of scenes is where the real wealth is. The second scene is two takes of Ben Mayer-Goodman dancing on the bed in the German apartment. Not really that interesting until you find out that Mayer-Goodman does that dance of his own accord; it wasn't written into the script. When Mitchell saw Mayer-Goodman doing that dance, he knew he had to include it in the movie. Both deleted scenes have commentary, but it's much more sparse than the feature commentary.

This feature allows you to skip right to your favorite song and gives you audio/subtitle options. Note that each song is its own entry in the full chapter list for the film, and that if you go to the main chapter select menu, each one that contains a song is clearly marked (in fact, there are more marked scenes in the main chapter menu than there are scenes in the "Select-A-Scene" menu).

The extras are rounded out with cast and crew filmographies and the theatrical trailer, which I watched innumerable times while waiting for the film to arrive in my city, and is entertaining in its own right.

Extras Grade: A+

Final Comments

This is the real deal. A true original, John Cameron Mitchell has taken his influences and distilled them into something new and unique. In the process, he and Stephen Trask have created the ultimate rock opera, populated with people who are all too real. They quickly endear themselves to the viewer, to the point where the audience lets them into their own lives. There's a bit of Hedwig in everyone, whether they like it or not. Touching, hilarious, energizing, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is more than just The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new millennium, it is a cultural landmark in its own right. This comes with the highest possible recommendation, so go discover your own inner Hedwig.

Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-12-10