Friday, December 21, 2012

Hark! The Christmas Gabbers Sing

Werth: Merry Christmas, Wise!

Wise: Merry Christmas, Werth! What cinematic goodies do you hope to find underneath your tree?

Werth: This year the cinematic goodies will actually be in the movie theater because for the first time since 2009, they are releasing a big-budget movie musical on Christmas Day!

Wise: I assume you are referring to Les Miserables.

Werth: Oui! Tom Hooper's take on the trés populaire musical is sure to be on the wishlist of many a Holiday Musical fan.

Wise: But even if you can't make it to your local mega-plex this Christmas, Santa's little gabbers are here to suggest some other musicals for you to enjoy all snug in your bed.

Werth: If you like a little trannie glam-rock in your holidays, there is no better musical than the 2001 indie darling, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Based on the successful off-Broadway play of the same name, Hedwig tells the life story of transgender rock goddess Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) whose national tour of the Bilgewater's restaurant chain smells like the end of the line. 
If performing on a small stage next to the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet wasn't bad enough, Hedwig's tour just happens to coincide with the sell-out stadium tour of her ex-lover, Tommy Gnosis (the eternally sketchy Michael Pitt).

Wise: I thought something smelled like fish.

Werth: Hedwig looks back over her life from her start as a young boy in Soviet East Germany to discovering Tommy in a trailer park in Junction City, Kansas with a mix of loving reverie and cocked eyebrow. 
Mitchell not only stars as Hedwig, but he also wrote and directed—which makes perfect sense when you realize that Mitchell has spent a lot of time in Hedwig's boots. He created the character in performances at gay rock club night "Squeezebox" at Don Hill's in Tribeca before expanding the character and creating the hit play. And Mitchell's mastery of this fascinating creature is evident as we watch Hedwig go through heartbreak, rock n' roll success, and the tragedy of a sex-change operation that got "botched." 
Mitchell plays for drag camp, but at the same time gives a depth and a sad irony to this character that makes this concoction of wild wigs, Eastern European lilt, and filthy excess feel real. 

Wise: At least more real than the Soviet gymnastics team in the early 80's.  

Werth: Visually Mitchell has fun transforming reality into a stage by blowing the walls off a trailer in "Wig in a Box" and turning a laundromat into an intimate cabaret in "Wicked Little Town," 
but the ending of the film is not as strong thematically as what was produced for the stage. Whether you're left with the urge to "pull a wig down from the shelf" or just confusedly scratch your headHedwig is a rock musical worth shoving in your holiday stocking.

Wise: In Cabaret (1972), Michael York plays Brian Roberts, a shy Englishman fleeing his stultifying homeland for the more decadent pleasures of Berlin in the final days of the Weimar Republic before Germany was overrun by the Nazis.  Once there, he takes a room in a boarding house where he meets Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), a singer at the tawdry Kit Kat Klub who has dreams of becoming a big star.  
The two become fast friends, occasional lovers, and eventually rivals for the affection of the same man, married playboy baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).  

Werth: Tomorrow Belongs to Max.

Wise: The film is based on a stage musical of the same name which, in turn, was based on a play called I am a Camera adapted from the 1945 book The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood.  Longtime choreographer Bob Fosse was determined to direct the film, but after his previous effort Sweet Charity (1969) disappointed at the box office, he was not exactly at the top of the producers' wish list.  
Still, he persisted, and through luck and hard work, he got the job and won an Oscar for bringing his peculiar and kinetic style to the project.  Most of the dramatic scenes employ the largely invisible camera work of classic Hollywood, 
but during the musical numbers the camera drops its disinterest and becomes a participant, nosing up to the dancers, zooming close to catch each jiggle and turn, then dashing around to capture the abstract shapes of the dancers' legs in strange poses that was part of Fosse' signature style.  
It's a far cry from the wall flower camera during Fred and Ginger's numbers. 

Werth: Art nerd alertHe also had some fun posing and dressing the Kit Kat Klub's audience to create living tableaux of works of German Expressionism from the era.

Wise: The film earned Liza Minelli an Oscar for Best Actress and catapulted her to stardom.  Her performance is exuberant and giddy, but with a core of tenderness that reveals an emotional frailty beneath Sally's high hopes.  Joel Grey is also excellent (and Oscar-winning) as the gender bending Emcee whose capers are both hilarious and unsettling.  
Michael York was not rewarded by the Academy, although his work as what amounts to a male ingenue, though muted, exhibits enough gravity to anchor the flamboyance of his co-stars.  Plus, his bee-stung lips and elegant neck are super dreamy. 

Werth: While we're left with visions of Michael Yorks dancing in our heads, we wish all of our faithful Film Gab readers a Merry Christmas

Wise: And come back next week for our New Year's edition of  Film Gab! 

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