John Cameron Mitchell has brought his off-Broadway hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch to the screen. It's the story of German, 'internationally ignored' rock singer Hedwig (Mitchell), whose botched sex-change operation permits her to escape from East Berlin, but leaves her with the titular 'angry inch' which symbolizes her alienation from 'normal' society. She marries a black American G.I. who deserts her in a Kansas trailer park. She forms a rock band with a cadre of Korean G.I. wives and falls in love with a music-loving boy, Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt). Tommy also dumps her, but not before stealing her songs, which enable him to become a mega rock star. A deeply embittered Hedwig stalks Tommy's stadium tour with her band, The Angry Inch, while performing to bewildered diners in a chain of strip-mall seafood restaurants.

Under Mitchell's quite amazing rookie direction, this show--dark, cynical and deeply ironic--translates beautifully to film. He has opened up his bizarre tale wonderfully, with the unlikely locales of Berlin and the American Midwest lending rich texture to his mordantly humorous writing. The material has also lightened up considerably in its cinematic transfer and is funnier, as well as more emotionally stirring than it was onstage. The full acid-washed, rabbit befurred, Farrah-haired horror of Middle America emerges hilariously through cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco's vivid cinematography. The dumbfounded reactions of senior citizens, enjoying their "early-bird specials" while Hedwig does her thing, are as amusing as her pathetic appearance at a "Lilith"-style women's music fair to an audience of one (while Gnosis performs to a cheering stadium just over the hill).

Mitchell's Hedwig is an astonishingly original creation--part Marlene Dietrich, Nina Hagen and any bedraggled, immigrant G.I. bride combined. Her childhood self is embodied by a wonderfully frenetic little boy (Ben Mayer-Goodman), who is forced by an intolerant German mother to stick his head into the oven to listen to his beloved but bothersome radio ("And that's when American Forces radio brought to me the genius of Toni Tennille…"). Other characters Hedwig could only talk about are here beautifully embodied by a cadre of perfectly cast performers, chief among them being Pitt. With a devastatingly prehensile upper lip and the most gorgeously vacant green eyes, he incarnates the term "young, dumb and full of cum," an apt love object for the rapaciously obsessive Hedwig. (Her bathtub seduction of him while on babysitting duty is but one of Mitchell's hilarious notions.)

Hedwig's rockin', anthemic songs--"Angry Inch," "Wig in a Box," etc.--written by Stephen Trask, work expositional wonders, but it's her haunting rendition with Tommy of "Wicked Little Town" that is the real, heartbreaking leitmotif to their doomed affair. Andrea Martin lends her special brand of lunacy as band manager Phyllis Stein, forever exhorting Hedwig to cash in on her Tommy connection. Miriam Schor, in grungy male rock drag, plays Hedwig's surly, abused husband, Yitzhak, with the perfect amount of bruised hostility. (He knows how to bring home the bacon as well, when he lands a job with the Philippines touring company of Rent through a casting notice calling for ubiquitously "edgy" types.)

--David Noh