I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch when it first came out, and remembered songs like “Wig In A Box” and “Angry Inch.” Over the years it became a Broadway phenomenon, and I wish I’d seen NPH or Darren Criss perform it. Criterion putting out a new Blu-ray was a great excuse to revisit it, and of course now I have all the songs stuck in my head all over again.
“Wig In A Box” is still the signature song for me. I’m sure the chord progression is what keeps me coming back to it, but I also relate to it. It’s where Hedwig dreams of the woman he could be, and the bittersweet feeling of waking up as himself again. We’ve all woken up from dreams that we wished were real. Many of us are lucky enough to be living our true selves, but imagine if you could only be your true self in your subconscious. It’s heartbreaking what John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s song tapped into.
“Angry Inch” is such filled with such rage, you can’t deny it’s power. It’s an anthem to everyone who’s been forced to deal with circumstances beyond their control, but I’d hate to compare any of my problems to Hedwig’s. Hansel underwent a sex change operation to escape East Berlin, it was botched, he was abandoned, then the Wall came down anyway. It’s drama’s job to present the extreme version of our daily struggles, so Hansel’s journey to become Hedwig is universal in the way that everybody figures out who they want to be, and anyone who doesn’t accept you be damned. Still, I’m a cis white male. I’ve never had to be as brave as Hedwig, but I admire her.
“Midnight Radio” is an empowering rock ballad, an ode to other trailblazing artists too. “Wicked Little Town” walks the line of sadness feeling out of place, but accepting you’re still you there. “Tear Me Down” is such a classic rock song I could have sworn it was a cover, although I have heard Meat Loaf cover it since. “Origin of Love” builds to that crescendo with poetic lyrics.
I focus on the music, because if it’s a musical I want the music to be good, just like if it’s a comedy I want to laugh and if it’s an action movie I want to see cool stuff. The plot is also timeless in its tale of showbiz betrayal and people just letting you down. Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) not only uses Hedwig’s material to become a star, but all he needs to do to be a good person is stay and talk about her complicated situation. Whether or not Tommy can ultimately accept her, he didn’t even try.
The colors on this transfer from 4K are bright, with saturated grainy film dancing to the beat. The costumes, the wigs, the dive bars (and salad bar), the glitter, those closeups of the eyes in striking detail all bring out the flash and aching heart of Hedwig. New bonus features go deep with nearly 20 years’ worth of retrospective.
The Hedwig reunion runs 56 minutes at the Jane Street Theater, with some footage of the early performances, the 2007 concert and even a Korean performance. They also discuss the LGBTQ climate circa Clinton and Giuliani leading to the reconstruction of binary constraints. Their name dropping of celebrity fans is fun. Now we know who was cool enough to get Hedwig before it was even a movie. John Cameron Mitchell had interest from A list directors but held strong to direct himself. Production designer, the late Therese DePrez is well represented in the discussion, and in behind the scenes photos.
David Fricke interviews Stephen Trask for 29 minutes. They talk in very deep music theory terms which is interesting to hear applied to Hedwig songs, along with some more history of the show and footage of early performances.
My favorite new bonus features though are Mitchell, costume designer Arianne Phillips and hair and makeup artist Mike Potter showing off their collections. These end up being the most personal as each artifact represents a story and/or milestone either the show achieved, or they achieved in their careers or personal lives.
All the previous DVD extras are included too. I always remember the 90 minute documentary because it begins with the press junket, which I didn’t cover because I wasn’t yet smart enough to know how cool Hedwig was going to be. But I know a lot of the reporters in it so it was fun to see them again too. It is also reassuring how much better discussion of LGBTQ themes has gotten since the unnuanced press junket of 2001.