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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/12/03

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
New Line Platinum Series - 2001 (2001) - New Line

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Platinum Series Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/A

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

91 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Snapper case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), audio commentary (with actor/writer/director John Cameron Mitchell and director of photography Frank DeMarco), Whether You Like It or Not, The Story of Hedwig documentary, alternate and deleted scenes (with optional commentary by John Cameron Mitchell and Frank DeMarco), Select-a-Song, theatrical trailer, cast and crew filmographies, DVD-ROM features (including original website and Hedwig jukebox), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (26 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

I would never label myself as a big fan of musicals, but compared to some people, I guess I am. I certainly don't go out of my way to see them. On the other hand, I can definitely appreciate one when it's well done. Apparently, my review of The Rocky Horror Picture Show has branded me as The Bits' go-to guy for rock musicals starring men in drag. This is the only thing I can think of to explain why I received New Line's Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is not a spin-off starring Harry Potter's pet owl in his very own adventure. Rather, it's the story of "internationally ignored" song stylist Hedwig (played by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell) and her quest to be whole. Born in East Berlin, Hedwig (then known as "Hansel") escaped the bleak reality of life through the music of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Eventually, a literal escape is offered by an American soldier and a sex-change operation that goes awry. Now trapped in Junction City, Kansas, Hedwig again finds a way out through music. This time, it's her own. When her ex-protégé, Tommy (Michael Pitt), hits the big time by stealing her songs, Hedwig and her band The Angry Inch embark on their own tour, stalking Tommy and playing in Bilgewater's restaurants near the arenas and auditoriums Tommy's performing in.

I'd seen Hedwig prior to receiving this DVD to review, so I thought I'd simply watch a few minutes to gauge the disc's audio and video quality. Within ten minutes, that plan had been jettisoned and I was watching the entire movie again. Hedwig grows on you the second and third time you watch it. This helps explain why the movie has attracted a Rocky Horror-style cult with loyal "Hed-heads" gathering monthly here in L.A. to watch midnight screenings. The real litmus test of any musical is the songs... and the songs in Hedwig are the real deal. Composed by Stephen Trask (who also appears in the film), Hedwig's music is a perfect blend of Broadway-style theatricality, authentic glam and punk rock. That might seem like a contradiction in terms but after listening to songs like The Origin of Love, Wig in a Box and Wicked Little Town, you'll hear that it works. This is some of the very best original music I've heard in a musical since... well, maybe since Rocky Horror.

Obviously, it's easy to compare Hedwig to Rocky. But honestly, it's also not very fair to either show. They're very different both in terms of tone and intent. Ultimately, I think Hedwig is the superior film. Certainly, there's more real emotion and feeling behind Hedwig than Rocky. But also, while Rocky Horror is a lot of fun, it's also kind of a mess as a movie. Hedwig is extremely well constructed and it's to Mitchell's credit as a first-time movie director that it works as well as it does. At a brisk 91 minutes, Hedwig never feels slow or uncertain. The staging of the musical numbers, some of which are interspersed with animation by Emily Hubley, is consistently imaginative and enjoyable. That might not seem like a big deal, but many of the songs are performed in Bilgewater's restaurants around the country, basically the same set dressed a little differently each time. In lesser hands, these could have quickly become repetitious but Mitchell and cinematographer Frank DeMarco do their best to keep that from happening.

This is a typically strong addition to New Line's Platinum Series. The image quality is very good, with excellent contrast between the bleached look of East Berlin and the hyper-kinetic colors of Hedwig's stage act. Although it doesn't appear to say so anywhere on the packaging, both the movie and all of the supplements are enhanced for 16x9 monitors. Occasionally, this will call attention to the movie's low budget. But overall, this is a very high quality transfer. As for audio, it would seem that most of the care and attention went to the music, which is as it should be. Dialogue becomes curiously flat after the power of the music, especially in the somewhat anemic Dolby Digital version. In DTS, the movie comes to life a bit more, although it still falls short of being completely immersive. Nevertheless, the songs all sound terrific, with a bit more bass and depth of field found on the DTS track.

In terms of supplements, New Line and Automat Pictures have put together a package that should satisfy even the most devoted "Hed-head". Most enjoyable is Whether You Like It or Not, The Story of Hedwig, a feature-length, in-depth documentary that follows Hedwig from its roots in drag clubs, to Broadway and to the Sundance Film Festival. This is a great documentary and, at 85 minutes, it's only about 6 minutes shorter than the movie itself. Nearly as good is the full-length audio commentary by Mitchell and DeMarco. Amazingly, there is very little overlap between the documentary and the commentary, making both features well worth your time.

Elsewhere on the disc are a handful of deleted scenes, some of which are actually alternate takes. These come with an optional commentary by Mitchell and DeMarco and are worth checking out. There's also an Easter egg in the deleted scenes area, featuring Emily Hubley displaying the artwork for an abandoned animated sequence. Like most movie musicals, this disc has a Select-a-Song feature, enabling you to go straight to your favorite tune. And, like most New Line DVDs, the disc has filmographies for the cast and crew and the theatrical trailer rounding things out.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch appears as if it would be an easy movie to judge by its cover. If you're not into musicals, glam rock, drag queens or low-budget independent movies, you've probably already decided you're not interested in this movie. And that would be a shame. Hedwig is a lively, extremely enjoyable film that may not be for everyone, but is very rewarding to those willing to give it a chance. Between this, Moulin Rouge and the recent Chicago, the movie musical is making a comeback. Whether you like it or not.

Adam Jahnke
[email protected]

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