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On August 13, 1961, a wall was erected down the middle of the city of Berlin. The world was divided by a cold war, and the Berlin Wall was the most hated symbol of that divide. Reviled, graffitied, spit upon — we thought the wall would stand forever. And now that it's gone, we don't know who we are anymore. Ladies and gentlemen, Hedwig is like that wall! Standing before you in the divide between East and West, slavery and freedom, man and woman, top and bottom! And you can try and tear her down...
Hedwig And The Angry Inch is a 1998 off-Broadway Rock Opera by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, adapted into a film in 2001. This article deals mainly with the movie.
The story follows Hedwig Robinson, who at first appears to be a male-to-female Transsexual. She's the head of a not even remotely famous band called The Angry Inch. They play in dive bars to small crowds, stalking the much more successful rock star Tommy Gnosis, who — as Hedwig explains to her audience — stole her songs. There's much resentment within the band, particularly between Hedwig and her aspiring drag queen boyfriend Yitzhak.
Hedwig retells her life story to her few fans. Born in East Germany under the name Hansel Schmidt, she was once the effeminate son of a communist German woman named Hedwig and a (possibly abusive) American soldier. When the wall was built, Hansel's mother took her son to East Berlin to live a simple communist life. Bored and alone, Hansel spent his childhood listening to American glam rock on his radio, and pretending to be one of the "crypto-homo-rockers" of the 70's.
One day, after being kicked out of university for delivering a lecture on the "aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock and roll" titled "You, Kant, Always Get What You Want", teenaged Hansel meets a black American soldier named Luther. Luther instantly falls in love with the boy. He leaves him a candy trail of Berlin's symbol, colorful little gummi bears, seducing Hansel and introducing him to love. Hansel's mother, realizing that her son has no future in communist Germany, decides to let Hansel undergo a sex change operation in order for him to marry and leave the country. She leaves Hansel her passport — and her name.
The operation is botched, leaving Hedwig with partially formed genitalia, which she nicknames the "angry inch". Luther leaves Hedwig on the day the Berlin Wall is demolished. Stranded in the United States and stripped of her identity, she's forced to create a new life for herself. As Hedwig struggles to unite her male and female side — just when the city of Berlin is struggling to reunite itself — she discoveres there's much more to unite in what she considers her identity: the east and the west, the grownup and the child, the man and the woman, the old and the new. Keeping her head above water with odd jobs ("mostly of the type we call blow"), she meets the introverted teenaged military brat Tommy Speck and tries to fall in love again. Tommy is intrigued by Hedwig's music, and tries to make her part of his life...
Hedwig draws many comparisons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has garnered a similar (but smaller!) cult following. Although the story draws heavily from both classical mythology and from the glam rock cult scene, it's a very refreshing new take on gender and sex in pop culture, at the same time hilarious and utterly heartwrenching.
No relation to a certain snowy owl.
Contains the following tropes:
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Tommy in the bathtub.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: The film is an adaptation, but the stage show was completely original.
- Ambiguous Gender: Yitzak is played by Miriam Shor, who makes a rather convincing man. Her biological sex is kept ambiguous in the movie; a scene showing that Yitzak is biologically male was cut from the film in order to ensure Viewer Gender Confusion. The only unambiguous aspect of Yitzak's gender is that she wants to be feminine, but Hedwig forces her to dress as a man.
- Just what gender Hedwig identifies as is debatable as well. The sex change operation was for convenience in escape, not because he wanted to be a woman. After getting the titular inch, he seems to go back and forth on whether or not he wishes to be a man.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The German dialog in the movie is gramatically accurate but the actors have incredibly thick accents and they also have some trouble reciting their lines fluently.
- Attractive Bent Gender: Even with a good gendar, you have to keep reminding yourself Hedwig's a guy.
- Author Appeal: Mitchell is a Radical Faerie, and most of his works explore gender and sexuality as constructs. This movie in particular pokes the gender binary with a cattle prod.
- Back-Alley Doctor / Easy Sex Change: Hedwig gets a fast, cheap, and completely illegal shady operation. But because of this, the surgery became botched, leaving Hedwig with the titular "angry inch".
- Chekhov's Gun: During a lame standup routine, Hedwig makes a throwaway joke about immigration, reassuring her audience that she has her East German bandmates' passports right on her person. It becomes a plot point when Yitzak tries to leave her.
- Crossover Cosmology: The Origin of Love features Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and some Indian god. They're all dicks.
- Deadpan Snarker: Hedwig.
- Epic Song: Midnight Radio.
- Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Hedwig becomes a Memetic Sex Deity in and out of world.
- Fan Service: John Cameron Mitchell appears naked at several points.
- Food Fight: At least one gig devolves into a riot.
- Gainax Ending: The last fifteen minutes or so of the movie have no dialogue, only music. The directors' commentary says that it is supposed to represent a concert and give a deeper look into Hedwig as a person. It also leaves the final scenes open for interpretation. They could be a musical number representing actual events or, if Hedwig is dead, it could be her dreams flashing before her eyes.
- Gallows Humor
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Hedwig jokes about when she had to prostitute herself to survive. Later, she returns to the streets.
- "I Am" Song: "Tear Me Down"
"I'm the new Berlin Wall, baby! Try and tear me down!"
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Hansel delivered what he called a "brilliant lecture" on rock 'n' roll and East German philosophy entitled "You, Kant, Always Get What You Want." Apparently it was such a bad pun that it was the reason for his dismissal...
- Jerkass: Hedwig again. Her treatment of Yitzak is outright psychological abuse.
- Surely Hedwig's a Jerkass Woobie if ever there was one...
- Jesus Was Way Cool: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?" "No, but I love his work."
- Larynx Dissonance: The only thing that stops Miram Shor, as Yitzak, from being a completely convincing male is that she has a distinctly feminine voice.
- And body, as shown during Midnight Radio.
- Limited Wardrobe: Yitzak wears the same outfit throughout the movie, in stark contrast to Hedwig's elaborate and ever-changing wardrobe.
- Medium Blending: The animated "The Origins Of Love" segment.
- Magical Negro: Word of God claims that this was intentionally invoked with Luther.
- Mind Screw
- Musical World Hypotheses: Most of the numbers are diegetic; however, the movie version of "Wig in a Box" is more Adaptation, and the Gainax Ending is such a Mind Screw precisely because it is not clear which hypothesis is at work.
- Mythology Gag: In one scene, Hedwig and Yitzhak are talking while the television plays "Random Number Generation," a song from the original stage show.
- Rage Against the Heavens: "Origin of Love" has a lot of elements of this.
- "Here's to Patti, and Tina, and Yoko, Aretha, and Nona, and Nico and me."
- The entire song is a fairly obvious tribute to Rock 'n' Roll Suicide.
- For that matter, the flashbacks to Hedwig's youth and relationship with Tommy Gnosis feature plenty of Shout Outs to Bowie, Reed, Iggy Pop, and the rest of the "cryptohomorockers."
- In the movie Hedwig shouts "Tommy, can you hear me?" when talking about Tommy Gnosis.
- Suspiciously Apropos Music: The main form of the musical numbers.
- Unusual Euphemism: "My 'bishop in a turtleneck.'"
- We Could Have Avoided All This: Almost immediately after Hedwig gets a botched sex operation and marries Luther to escape East Berlin, the Berlin Wall crumbles down, as Hedwig watches it live on tv.
- White Void Room: During the song "Midnight Radio".
- Word Salad Lyrics: Several verses in "Exquisite Corpse." Some stanzas are coherent ("I'm all hollowed out, covered in a paper shroud and all the rest's illusion"), but then you get this verse:
A random pattern with a needle and thread
- Of course, word salad is what an exquisite corpse is supposed to be. A coherent one actually ruins the point of the exercise.
- Yum Yum: "And a giant sized Sugar Daddy named Luther..."