Q opens our month of LGBTQ+ Pride articles with three superb films available to watch now on streaming platforms and Blu-ray. So kick back, grab a drink and settle in for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), Summerland (2020), and Saved (2004).
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Hedwig has had a tough life, from growing up gay in East Berlin to sleeping in his mother’s oven. But, despite this challenging start, Hedwig has become a force of nature, a singer/songwriter whose band The Angry Inch plays small restaurants and clubs across America, much to the disgust of many local patrons. However, Hedwig’s songs have found fame, just not in Hedwig’s hands. Instead, an ex-lover uses Hedwig’s material to further their own rock star career, much to Hedwig’s frustration and anger. But can Hedwig finally achieve the career he deserves? And can love trump hate and deceit as Hedwig tracks down the boy who stole his heart and his material?
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Hedwig and the Angry Inch remains one of the finest pop-rock musicals ever produced. Its journey from a gay club to the stage and finally the screen a unique and fascinating glitter soaked road trip. One that highlights the power of gay club culture in giving birth to characters and stories that have become a part of the modern zeitgeist. Hedwig began his life in the imaginations of broadway star John Cameron Mitchell and composer and songwriter Stephen Trask. Their random meeting on a domestic flight, turning from conversations on literature to a vision of a character named Hedwig. A character embedded in the people they had met, the drag queen culture of New York’s nightlife and the emergence of a new queer punk rock scene.
As both men began to form the outline of what would become Hedwig and the Angry Inch, they took their vision to the stage at Squeezebox, New York, a club rooted in gay rock n roll, queer punk and drag. Squeezebox was the perfect place to home Hedwig’s character, with John Cameron Mitchell’s nightly performance drawing big crowds. And it wasn’t long before the story of Hedwig and the Angry Inch became part of Squeezebox culture. It was clear a larger stage beckoned, but finding the finance to achieve this would prove far more difficult.
However, crowdfunding came to the rescue, and Hedwig finally took to the stage at the Jane Street Theatre, New York, on February 14, 1998; its dazzling humour soaked rock opera wowing crowds while achieving instant cult status. In fact, Hedwig and the Angry Inch would tour the UK, Canada, Brazil and Germany before the curtain fell in 2000. But, did that mean Hedwig’s journey was over? Of course not! As John Cameron Mitchell was already working with the Sundance Institute on a potential movie. And oh, what a movie we got in 2001.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch on screen is just as wild a ride as it was on stage. A glorious, flamboyant and devilishly funny movie that revels in Hedwig’s Squeezebox birth. Here, John Cameron Mitchell is truly electrifying alongside the original New York cast. But, when you add to the mix Micheal Pitt as the young rock prodigy Tommy Gnosis and the animation of Emily Hubley, Hedwig and the Angry Inch takes pleasure and pride in bringing its unique, colourful and vibrant world to the screen. Its sheer brilliance, anarchy and dazzling energy carving a place in cinematic history, alongside all the other musicals who dared to be different, from Rocky Horror to All That Jazz and Cabaret.
So, what are you waiting for? Pour yourself a drink, get together with friends and take a visit to Hedwig’s wild world. And if you have seen it before, why not embark on the adventure again. Because while it may be twenty, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is still as fresh, creative and funny as the day it premiered.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH RETURNS TO THE PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA THIS JULY FOR A SERIES OF 20TH ANNIVERSARY SCREENINGS. BOOK HERE
Initially destined for the BFI Flare festival in March 2020, writer/director Jessica Swale’s beautiful, heartwarming and optimistic Summerland sadly never reached the cinema screen due to COVID 19. Its release delayed before an all too quiet online premiere in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, like so many films, this meant Summerland primarily arrived without notice, despite its great reviews. Therefore, if you haven’t heard of this British gem, we forgive you. But, trust us when we say Summerland is not only a stunning wartime drama but a heartfelt exploration of love lost and found. Its LGBTQ+ themes wrapped in a blanket of wit, charm and perfectly balanced sentimentality.
We first join crotchety writer Alice (Penelope Wilton) in 1975 as she sits typing furiously on her ageing typewriter. Her home on the Kent coast a haven of peace and tranquillity until two children knock at the door. Rising from her chair Alice opens the door and asks what they want in a sharp voice. The reply comes innocently and softly as they explain that they are raising money for the elderly. However, Alice tells them to bugger off with a scoff before slamming the door and walking back to her typewriter.
We are then transported back to Alice in her younger years (Gemma Arterton). However, despite being younger, Alice is no less obstinate. Her home a haven of self-isolation as she writes academic books on folklore. Meanwhile, in the UK’s cities, the Blitz leads the nation’s kids to escape to the countryside, staying with families and individuals alien to them. But, for Alice, the falling bombs of the German Luftwaffe feel a world away from the quiet serenity of her cottage.
However, Alice’s self-imposed isolation hides distrust of the community surrounding her, the local children calling her a witch and Nazi spy. While at the same time, local adults avoid her direct and often confrontational persona. But, it’s not long before Alice’s home finds itself invaded by a young evacuee named Frank (Lucas Bond). His arrival on her doorstep, both unexpected and inconvenient. But as Alice insists on his removal to another family, the ice surrounding her fortress of solitude begins to crack. Her new young lodger helping her to explore a past hurt and regret that still burns brightly in her soul.
Wrapped in the stunning cinematography of Laurie Rose, Summerland inhabits a magical world of long summer days, dusty books and ocean spray. Alice’s cottage a haven of literature, a self-made cave of seclusion, wonder and adventure. But, this cave also acts as a shroud for Alice’s internal pain, her life put on hold by choice, her only friends the books surrounding her. For, Alice’s life is incomplete, her only one true love, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), haunting her dreams. The pain of what could have been chipping away at her as she relives their break-up. Their final meeting rooted in Vera’s devastating choice between having a child and becoming a mother or loving Alice in secret. But, can a lonely boy from London help heal Alice’s pain? And can an unexpected bond restore the magic of a life where love has been lost in memory?
Jessica Swale’s Summerland may occasionally lack depth, but its performances shine as brightly as the sun beating down on the Kent coastline. Here, both Arterton and Bond are truly stunning alongside an enviable ensemble of British stars. But, possibly even more impressive is Swale’s ability to weave historical and important conversations on forbidden lesbian love into a light yet emotionally charged wartime drama. While at the same time, ensuring themes of feminism, defiance and equality sit centre stage in the journey of both Alice and Frank.
WATCH SUMMERLAND NOW ON APPLE TV
Director Brian Dannelly once stated that his film Saved was based on his own experiences in an ultra-religious high school. Each scene layered with something seen heard, or viewed as he struggled with his own sexuality within a religious family. Maybe it’s due to Dannelly’s raw honesty that Saved stands out as one of the best comedies of 2004 and one of the most audacious. And yet, Saved also remains a film very few people have seen or heard of, despite a Sundance premiere and US theatrical run that earned positive critic and audience reviews. Here in the UK, Saved failed to ignite much debate despite its brilliance. And, therefore, it all but vanished into the mists of film history, a forgotten gem just waiting to be found.
On the surface, Saved may appear to be your standard teen high school comedy, with popular kids, geeks, outcasts and rebels all taking prominent places in the narrative. But, this is where any comparisons to the average teen comedy start and stop, as we meet the passionate evangelical ‘good girl’ Mary (Jena Malone). Her life centred around God, Jesus, and her school friendship circle of the Christian Jewels (a top religious clique that organise events and sing in assemblies). Even Mary’s mum symbolises religious perfection, having earned the title No. 1 Christian Interior Decorator. But, as the summer vacation progresses, Mary’s perfect Christian boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust) is about to drop a bombshell as he announces he might be gay. Filled with the horror of this unexpected revelation, Mary takes it upon herself to cure Dean of his improper thoughts.
This cure involves extended kissing sessions and breast fondling. However, much to Mary’s horror, Dean does not seem to be embracing his hidden heterosexuality. Enter Mary’s best friend, the aggressively religious Hilary Faye. While talking about Jesus, forgiveness and the evil gay curse at a shooting range, Hilary Faye tells Mary that she must do whatever it takes to cure Dean. And therefore, Mary takes the bold step of sleeping with him after catching him enjoying a gay magazine in his bedroom.
Unfortunately for Mary, this does not cure Dean’s homosexuality; his parents sending him to Mercy House, a Christian boarding school specialising in drug rehabilitation and ‘degayification’. But, as the new school year begins at American Eagle Christian High School, Mary’s world is about to become even more complicated. Her faith called into question as friendships change, a new boy emerges (Patrick Fugit), and a new life grows inside of her. Meanwhile, Hilary Faye’s world is also challenged; her ever suffering disabled brother (Macaulay Culkin) finding his own unique voice while hooking up with school rebel Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jew at American Eagle. Hilary’s very status and position at school placed in jeopardy by those around her.
Now at this point, you may be expecting me to praise Saved for its cutting dissection of religion and evangelical double standards. And yes, Saved is sublimely brilliant as it takes a razor-sharp satirical scalpel to the false values and moral turpitude of many of those who use religion as a shield. Their views and opinions often based on hate and intolerance rather than love and unity. But, Saved also has no intention of ridiculing faith and belief, and it’s here where Dannelly’s movie is ingenious.
By the end of Saved, we are treated to a conclusion that highlights the ability of faiths to embrace change, diversity and equality. The characters false perspectives and hidden flaws revealed as they forge a new path. Of course, some may argue this is ultimately a cop-out to avoid offending religious communities, but in truth, it’s a voice of hope. The final message bound in our ability to embrace new perspectives and new worlds no matter the beliefs we carry.
Does that mean Saved is perfect? No, there are flaws, from its light touch interpretation of conversion therapy to its slightly wet ending. But, as a satirical dissection of religions enduring power to divide and judge with impunity, Saved is also pure genius. And while it cannot be described as a pure LGBTQ+ movie, its themes will undoubtedly mesh with the experiences of many LGBTQ+ people of faith who have been forced to find their own path in redefining their belief and achieving belonging.
WATCH SAVED NOW ON AMAZON PRIME
Why not also explore our Death in Venice at 50