Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hedwig and Harry Potter

I was all ready to like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), but found myself disliking it. A transsexual punk woman from East Berlin tours the US with her band, playing in diners rather than clubs, as she tells the story of her life and follows an ex-lover who stole her songs and became a teen idol. What could have been a complex look at an injured soul became a me-me biopic. For Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell, who also directed, and wrote the book with Stephen Trask), the world is divided into two camps: those who love me, and those who don't. Such narcissism is a potent subject, but the film does not acquire any distance from it for any analysis. The fall of the Berlin wall was a metaphor taken up the film sporadically. I am not a fan of punk rock, and the many numbers in the film, sung live by Mitchell over a pre-recorded band mix, did not change my mind.

I have not read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and think that if I had done so the movie, directed by David Yates, would have felt even more somnolent. The plot is just not that gripping. Harry has to wheedle out of a new professor his memory of Tom Riddle. Malfoy plays peek-a-boo with a magic cabinet that transported the evil wizards into Hogwarts. The visuals are strong, but also feel familiar. The teenage characters are not charming or nuanced enough to make teenage romance interesting. The exceptions are Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Tom Riddle at age 11), and Frank Dillane (Tom Riddle at age 16). The first had a compelling malevolent look; the second gave force and subtlety to his every word.

I am obviously not watching the right films.


scritic said...

You know, the first time I saw Hedwig, I sort of liked it but the pop cultural references went right past me, which was annoying (this happens to me, in most "gay" movies). But the second time I saw it, I was surprised by how well the movie walks the line between comedy and tragedy. I mean we're talking about a girlie man, who has his manhood chopped off and a love of his life who rejects him and steals his songs! Yet Hedwig doesn't seem to be begging for pity at all (I guess you disagree on this score). It is kind of touching - and also I liked the songs.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks for your comment. I agree that I would have appreciated the movie more if I get the pop references.