Rachelle Andrews Jan 31, 2007 FMS 001 Winter 2007 Assignment #1 Hedwig and the Angry Critics How

are homosexuals represented in film today? Historically, homosexuals have been depicted as unclean, unnatural, and were used as comic relief. Have we grown, have we been able to move past the earlier misunderstandings of homosexuals and transsexuals, or are we still stuck in the past? Past and present views of transsexuals are still a part of the film industry today, but through the use of cinematography and editing such films as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, homosexuals and transsexuals are represented through a hybridity of different images. Offering the audience a variety of images and views of such communities, allows viewers to conceptually categorize these communities. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a dramatic representation of the transsexual community, and by using editing techniques to create flashbacks, the film is able to challenge the monochromatic views we have and expand our understanding of such communities. Written, directed, and starring John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is based on the off-Broadway musical theater play by the same name. It tells the story of the fictional transsexual lead singer Hedwig (born Hansel) of

the band The Angry Inch. Hedwig spends his childhood in Communist East Berlin, a bleak contrast to the world he is enticed to by listening to American Forces Radio. He falls in love with Luther, a US G.I., but in order to marry and move with him to the US he must have a sex change. The operation is botched and he is left with, as she describes it, an “angry inch,” not quite a man and not quite a woman. Hansel is now Hedwig. Upon their one year anniversary Luther leaves her for another man and she is left with nothing but her passion for music. She befriends Tommy Speck (stage name, Tommy Gnosis), a Christian teenager whom she falls deeply in love with, but when he finds the truth about her sexuality he leaves her. Hedwig is left again, and now with her band The Angry Inch’s she travels alongside playing venues next to Tommy’s, including nautical themed restaurants. The history and the past of Hedwig is revealed throughout the film through flashbacks and lyrics of the rock songs. “How did some slip of a girly boy from East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?” The story of Hedwig’s life is never told directly but is told in a type of mockumentary. The film is presented as if it were a documentary but the story of Hedwig is fictional and allows for parody and satire to be played on the issues of transsexuality. These issues of homosexuality and transexualism usually have been ignored or used as comic relief in film, and many times described as being unnatural and unclean. “[H]omosexuality was understood as a tragic flaw

linked to violence, crime, shame, and, more often than not, suicide”(Benshoff and Griffin, p.312). In the 1961 film The Children’s Hour starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, Martha admits to Karen that “I can't stand to have you touch me! I can't stand to have you look at me! Oh, it's all my fault. I have ruined your life and I have ruined my own. I swear I didn't know it! I didn't mean it! Oh, I feel so damn sick and dirty I can't stand it anymore!” At the end of the film Martha is found dead after she commits suicide. Like many of the films before the sexual evolution during the 1970’s The Children’s Hour reflects the common beliefs of the people during that time. Knowledge of communities such as transsexuals began to be explored and many tried to find the scientific reason behind these ‘unnatural’ feelings. As the film industry began to “deal with the topic, however, [films began to} f[a]ll back onto formulas and melodramatic clichés”(Benshoff and Griffin, p.312). The film industry has tried to represent homosexuals and transsexuals in an “accurate” light but in fact “there is still a long way to go before homosexuals are allowed equal time and equal treatment on Hollywood screens”(Benshoff and Griffin, p.316). Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a wonderful example of a film that can present the hybridity of a social issue. Its depictions of Hedwig and her journey, allow the audience a chance to be challenged: How will you view transsexuals, cross-dressers, and homosexuals after you view this film? John Cameron Mitchell created a truly revolutionary story, by using his

main character of Hedwig he is able to give complex representations of homosexuals and transsexuals. To some “the production of gay and lesbian stereotypes in mainstream culture can be regarded as showing the stains of the white straight centre trying to define what it is not”(Davies and Smith, p. 105). We are given examples of homophobes, homosexuals who deny their sexual preference, cross dressers, and asexual characters. In an interview with John Cameron Mitchell he mentioned that “I certainly wanted Hedwig’s world to be one where identities and categories are fluid, changing, and confusing, as they are, really, in life…even just in doing Hedwig, I’ve learned a lot about definitions”(Fuchs, p.2). In giving his characters so much freedom he challenges many of his viewers and their views of homosexuality. The character of Tommy, the main love interest, is portrayed as a man who is unsure of his own sexuality. Born a strict Christian he falls in love with Hedwig, but when he finds that she is not truly a woman he abandons her and takes with him her heart. At the end of the film, after a car crash, Tommy denies ever knowing Hedwig: “ I never knew that woman before that night and I never knew she was not a woman”(Hedwig and the Angry Inch). By giving his characters such a variety of sexual differences he challenges our views of the homosexual community—an effective kind of visual and political strategy. Strategically John Cameron Mitchell was able to create a visually appealing mockumentary of a transsexual rock star by telling his life story through flashbacks and rock song lyrics. This movie also is able to make a

political point through the Berlin heritage of Hedwig. Hedwig comes from East Berlin during the time of the communist Berlin wall, he succeeds moving west— past barriers--but then was “fucked”. As Mitchell explains “[he was able to move] six inches forward, [then was torn] five inches back…what she does with the inch that she’s given in life, how she finds a way to think of herself as whole”(Fuchs, p.2) is the endpoint to her journey. In the beginning of the film, Hedwig expresses her journey and quest to become whole through her rock song “The Origin of Love”.
The origin of love And there were three sexes then, One that looked like two men Glued up back to back, Called the children of the sun. And similar in shape and girth Were the children of the earth. They looked like two girls Rolled up in one. And the children of the moon Were like a fork shoved on a spoon. They were part sun, part earth Part daughter, part son. (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

Refering to Aristophanes speech in Plato’s Symposium, Hedwig describes the human race originally being whole: after being separated people spend their entire lives searching for their other halves.. Hedwig believes that she has found dher other half, Tommy. She believes that she will not be whole without him and is driven to unite with her own other half. “It is clear that I must find my other half. But is it a he or a she?”(Hedwig, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Hedwig and the Angry Inch is an inspiring film about a transsexual rock star who captures the hearts of the audience, but is also able to

challenge our views of the homosexual and transsexual community.

Work Cited
Benshoff, Harry M. and Sean Griffin. America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Davies, Jude and Carol R. Smith. Gender, Ethnicity and Sexuality in Contemporary American Film. Edinburg: Keele University Press, 1997. Fuchs, Cynthia. “Anyone Can Put a Wig On”: Interview with John Cameron Michell: Writer/ Director/ Star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 2006. Pop Matters. 25 Jan. 2007 <http://www.popmatters.com/film/interviews/m itchell-john-cameron.shtml> Mitchell, John Cameron. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, play. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 2003. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Prod. Amy Henkels and Pamela Koffler and Katie Roumel and Mark Tusk and Christine Vachon. Dir. John Cameron Michell. DVD. A-Film Distribution, 2001. The Children’s Hour. Prod. William Wyler. Dir. William Wyler. Perf. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. DVD. RKO Radio Pictures, 1961.

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