Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Remembering the year 2001

Written and Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

I can still remember how I felt after seeing HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH for the first time. It was raining but the only reason I noticed that was because I was wet when I got home. I didn’t feel a thing while I walked outside; I was far too stunned. What had I just seen? I certainly couldn’t say that I had ever seen a rock opera about a transsexual singer/songwriter from East Berlin who had a botched sex change operation and who had immigrated to America only to have all of her music ripped off by a pretty little white boy. The only reassuring thing about this state was that I was fairly certain no one else could say they had seen that before either.

Well, plenty of people had seen the Off-Broadway hit but that is still a pretty paltry faction of people. Yes, HEDWIG got its humble beginnings in New York City. It was written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask and the title character was performed by Mitchell himself. After the show concluded its run, Mitchell had bigger plans and bigger wigs in mind for both Hedwig and himself. He had never directed a film before but must have felt comfortable enough with this material to take that risk. The risk most certainly paid off and to watch Hedwig, you would never know he had never directed before. Mitchell took a play that was grand in scope but limited in size and eradicated any notion that it had to be contained on a stage. His direction of Hedwig goes from town to town following the former lover who stole all his songs while simultaneously moving back and forth between time and space to tell Hedwig’s incredible story. His performance of Hedwig earned him a Golden Globe nomination and to watch it, you cannot imagine anyone else filling those gigantic platforms.

Sure, it’s all a little jarring at first but then at ten minutes in, a song starts. An animation takes over the screen and tells the story of how love began. The song is called, “The Origin of Love” and the drawings are nothing more than stick figures shaking almost elegantly on parchment but it doesn’t matter. They capture exactly what the complex song is saying so simply. The song details how all of us were once connected with another. There were boys attached to other boys, girls with girls and even girls attached to other boys, if you can believe that. Until one day, the gods decided that too much fun was being had and split all of these perfect unions into halves that would then have to scour the world to find their counterparts. Before this moment, there was no need for love, to search for it, to crave it because it simply didn’t exist. Hedwig is not a man or a woman and certainly not whole. Her search is bold, empowered and unfailing … and will likely never be over.

I think its fair to say that there are still too few people who have seen anything like HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and I think its fair to say, too few people ever will. Thanks to John Cameron Mitchell though, a select group of fortunate people can now fell a little more open minded and hopefully a little more whole.

Black Sheep's 2001 Top 10
(in alphabetical order)

DONNIE DARKO, directed by Richard Kelly
GOSFORD PARK, Robert Altman
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, John Cameron Mitchell
L.I.E., Michael Cuesta
MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan
MOULIN ROUGE!, Baz Luhrmann
PRESQUE RIEN (Come Undone), Sebastien Lifshitz


David Swindle said...

Thanks for this Joseph. I remember when "Hedwig" opened I was a senior in high school and it was playing at the art house movie theatre where I worked -- Castleton Arts. We were quite excited to have it.

We got every single film on your list at the theatre (with the exceptions of Moulin Rouge, Come Undone, and LIE.)

It was a glorious time for film and a part of my life I'll never forget. Castleton Arts doesn't exist anymore. It was closed a few years ago and replaced by a newer, more advanced arts theatre down the street at the ultra-preppy "Fashion Mall," the snobbiest mall in the state. They bulldozed the old place to the ground and replaced it with a storage unit. Now all I have to remember that wonderful place are my memories, my journals, and the films I saw there.

Maybe I'll write something about it some time. Thanks for the inspiration.

Black Sheep said...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful story about your past, David. Personal experiences like that are what it's all about. I can almost feel the warmth and inspiration you felt working there. Hold on to that and you definitely should write about that space. Could be a great screenplay!

Paolo said...

I remember watching this in Showcase, which some people regarded as the worst channel to discover movies but it was fine for me. I found it stunning that Queer Cinema (apparently at its downfall even if so many LGBT characters and films were getting Academy recognition) was so creative and colourful. I hope Mitchell has something up his sleeve to brighten up the good yet dour movies that we have a decade later.

Black Sheep said...

Mitchell moved away from queer cinema with his latest film, RABBIT HOLE. Sadly, he has nothing on his slate at the moment. C'mon, John! The whole LBGT community awaits you!