Berlinale: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask and Andrea Martin

by Joanna Orland

Berlinale is the only A-list festival to present an official LGBTIQ film prize, and 2016 marks the 30th year of the Teddy Award.  The prize has been awarded in categories including Short Film, Documentary and Feature to works from all of the Berlinale sections which are relevant to queer culture.  For 2016, the Teddy has put together an anniversary programme which includes the 2001 winner of the Best Feature Film Teddy – Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

I first saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch when it was released in cinemas during the summer of 2001.  I fell in love with this film immediately, buying both its film and original Off Broadway soundtracks, a poster to hang on my wall, and eventually the DVD which I watched numerous times while always singing along.  Over the years the film has garnered a cult following, resulting in a Broadway version of the play staged in 2014 with actor Neil Patrick Harris taking over the role of Hedwig for New York audiences.  Briefly in 2015, John Cameron Mitchell resumed the role of Hedwig for three months, a historical pop culture moment I was fortunate enough to have witnessed, but also a reminder that there is only one actor who could play Hedwig – a fact that the film’s producer Christine Vachon proudly stated to the audience as she introduced the film at its Berlinale 2016 screening.

To see Hedwig and the Angry Inch return not only to the big screen but to East Berlin where the character of Hedwig is from, was beyond special.  Vachon’s introduction to the film was enlightening, not only due to her reminiscing about the director spending three hours in the makeup chair on a daily basis, but also because she explained how the film never saw a proper theatrical release in Berlin outside of the 2001 Berlinale.  What is even more surprising is that more than half of the audience at the 2016 screening had never before seen the film, which made the inevitable singalongs all the more awe-striking to bear witness to.

What is left to say about Hedwig and the Angry Inch that hasn’t already been said?  While the quality of the film print may have degraded, its story, characters and music withstand the test of time.


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