“All hail the freaks, all the freaks on the scene…”

In case you missed my post yesterday, today marks 1000 days in a row that I have posted on The Matinee. To celebrate that, I’ve gone back to the film that holds a special place in my heart.

Ten years ago today, I went on a first date. Since my cinematic obsession was in full swing by then, so it’s no surprise to say that I met this girl at the movies. One of the first questions I asked this girl was to tell me some of her favorite movies. One of the first films she came back with caught my attention: partly because it was an awesome choice, and partly because it wasn’t an obvious answer.

The first date led to a second date…which led to a third…and ten years later I’m thrilled to call her my wife. The film? John Cameron Mitchell’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.

If you’ve never seen it, HEDWIG is a rock opera about a would-be rock star named Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell). When we first meet Hedwig we learn that he/she is obsessed with a bigger rock star named Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt). On nights where Tommy plays a stadium in an American city, Hedwig plays the same city…usually headlining at a seafood restaurant. But Hedwig has come a long way to play those restaurants, all the way from Cold War-era East Berlin. To get here he married an American G.I. and got a sex change operation. Well, most of one anyway. The procedure was a mess, and he was left with a one-inch mound of flesh (as he/she sings it “Where his penis used to be, where her vagina never was”).

After the G.I. left him alone in America, he met young Tommy, introduced him to rock & roll, and seemed to finally be happy…if only momentarily.

So when Lindsay first told me how much she loved this film, I instantly wanted to know more about her given all of the personal themes within the story. The most forthcoming theme is the search to feel complete, as stated so eloquently in the song “Origin of Love”. It builds upon the myth that we were all once two people in one (“…they had two sets of arms/ and two sets of legs…”). One day The Gods split every human in two, and from then on, we have roamed the earth looking for our other half. As a result, the sensation of finding that other half is what love feels like.

The idea is much like the concept of soul mates, which you may or may not believe in. As for me, I think the fable has a kernel of truth to it. If you’ve ever hitched your star to someone who turned out to be the wrong person, you know what it’s like to move on and eventually find the right one. Things that other people don’t understand about you are suddenly accepted without a blink. Suddenly, you feel like you’re home…you’ve found someone you can open up to and be the best version of yourself.

The hitch, as I would suggest presents Hedwig’s biggest hurdle, is that if you are always roaming the earth looking for your other half, then you never become happy, confident, or secure enough in the half you inhabit. That feeling of something being missing – of needing someone else to be a whole – means that you never feel like the best version of yourself. You have to wonder, if you don’t feel like the best version of yourself, how can you ever put your best foot forward if that potential “other half” shows up?

Hedwig seems to eventually understand this – that his obsession with Tommy was misplaced and overemphasized. Sometimes it takes a while to understand that we had things all wrong, doesn’t it? To get over the one that did us wrong, or the one that got away?

Tommy finally underlines it for Hedwig (and for us) when he sings his version of Hedwig’s “Wicked Little Town”:

There’s no mystical design

No cosmic lover preassigned

There’s nothing you can find that cannot be found

‘Cause with all the changes you’ve been through

It seems the stranger’s always you

Alone again in some new wicked little town

That moment of realization, and how it is echoed in the final number “Midnight Radio” is what I have come to love most about HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. That as romantic as that early notion of searching for one’s other half is, that it’s only when we take ownership of who we are, and what we have become, that we’ll be able to find happiness.

I don’t think I really understood these things when I went on that date ten years ago. If I did, I certainly didn’t exude the best parts of them. I did love the off-kilter nature of Hedwig’s tale; its kooky humour, and every note of those wonderful songs. I think my enthusiasm for all of those elements made an impression on Lindsay.

Either that, or she saw in me a way to reach things off high shelves and open pickle jars.

Lindsay has always loved this film more than I have (and still does), but I’ve always been proud of its place in “our story”. It brashly waves a flag for embracing the freakish things about ourselves, and punctuates its statement with rock & roll. In the book High Fidelity, Rob Flemming said that what you like matters almost as much as what you are like. Had Lindsay come up with a different answer in that early conversation (or had it been a film I didn’t like) who’s to say where we’d be?

Happily though, her love for a freak that takes a wig down from a shelf has kept us dancing to the midnight radio for ten years strong.

Matineescore: 1/2 out of