On Blu-ray from Mon 22 Jul 2019

It’s surprising that in the modern era, with gender politics and expression so much a hot button issue, that a film like Hedwig and the Angry Inch goes largely unmentioned. Perhaps fitting then, that just over 20 years after the original musical first graced the stages of New York, the filmic incarnation should be given the glitz and gala treatment; allowing a new generation of moviegoers to enjoy it.  As well as featuring the 4K digital restoration from which the Blu-rays are mastered, fans of the film will be glad that all of the previously released DVD extras are present on this Criterion edition release. In addition, there’s a bevvy of new features, interviews, and retrospectives on the film ensuring that, ironically, it’s the most complete Hedwig package possible.

The movie tells the story of Hedwig Robinson (John Cameron Mitchell), an East German gender queer drag singer and her band, The Angry Inch. Through flashback, animation and many musical numbers, we learn the story of Hedwig’s life, the reasons behind the curious band of misfits and their reasons for doggedly stalking pop star, Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt).  Beyond the basic plotting, however, the genius of Hedwig is that it’s a universal story of self-discovery and soul searching. One that touches on many themes of identity, sexuality and meaning, all the while belting out ballads in fabulous costumes.

It’s somewhat difficult to gauge the impact a film like this has had.  Especially with it having never quite garnered the success or fame of Priscilla Queen of the Desert or Rocky Horror, both of which are often cited alongside in the same breath. But revisited in 2019, the modern cultural landscape is one quite different. Tellingly though nothing in the film feels dated, in part because much of it is set around and shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also because of the precocious maturity towards gender politics and identity that it shows. Indeed, that the cast features Miriam Shor wearing a fake beard and playing a drag queen would likely cause some ire in the current day, feels not only natural here, but almost essential to the point the film is making.

In visual terms, it’s a gloriously trashily and decadent film, that wallows in the cheapness of the hotel rooms and trailer parks that make up many of the settings. The one downside is that this does betray the relatively low budget and occasionally a workmanlike feel to the blocking, cinematography and staging of some non-musical scenes. But all of that is forgotten as soon as Cameron, Shor and Pitt begin singing Stephen Trask‘s songs. From the triumphant march of Wig in a Box to the climactic heart wrenching of Midnight Radio, the musical adventure is as emotional and bizarrely entertaining as Hedwig’s own story. It’s an adventure that anyone ought to find touching and relatable, regardless of who, what and how they were born.