Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Best of Black Sheep: Remembering the year 2001

Written and Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Editorial Note: Leading up to Black Sheep's upcoming feature highlighting the best films of the last decade, we take another look back at the decade behind us, year by year, each day leading up to it ...

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


Ryan McNeil said...

True story: In 2002 I met a girl, and in one of the first conversations we had, I asked her about her favorite movies. She told me that HEDWIG was one of her very favorites, and this immediately drew me to her.

"...Such an unobvious choice...such a cult film...this girl has taste!!"

Seven years later we got married.

So obviously I approve of this as an entry for 2001 in your series, even if I did happen to forget it when I wrote mine (

My top five would go like so...


Black Sheep said...

Hey Hatter. That is an awesome story! It is so awesome in fact, it almost allows me to look past the fact that you let SHREK take a spot in your Top 5 over HEDWIG. Almost.

Ryan McNeil said...

@ Black Sheep... Thanks neighbour, always happy to share a story of love at the movies.

Admittedly, part of me chose SHREK based on legacy. HEDWIG is a great film, and would certainly rank higher were I basing it on personal favorites...but I still believe that SHREK had a bigger impact on the year and the decade as a whole. It's aged oddly...perhaps due to far too many airings on TV...but it can't be denied that it casts an awful big shadow over the decade.

How big? Such a big shadow that the very studio that created it hasn't been able to make a film as good - despite nine years of trying.