Queer filmmaker Todd Stephens is on a mission. Over the past two decades, he has single-handedly done his level best to show that his hometown Sandusky, Ohio is a great place for members of the LGBTQ community to live.
In 1998 he persuaded Lea DeLaria to join the cast of Edge of Seventeen a sweet coming-out-tale but fearing for the safety of his crew, they never mentioned to the locals that the film was about queers. Things improved three years later when Stephens returned to film Gypsy 83 which was as much about Stevie Nicks as it was Sandusky.
Fast forward to the present day when the filmmaker returns home and is practically welcome with open arms when he films his deliciously funny Swan Song that is actually based on one of the city’s most flamboyant characters. The city even boasts its own Gay Pride now.
Swan Song is Stephen’s adaption of the story of Pat Pitsenberger …….known to everyone as Mr. Pat ….. an elderly outrageously camp hairdresser who catered to the whims of town’s snobby socialites in his day. Now financially broke after being swindled out of inheriting the house he had shared with his late-life partner, Mr. Pat, is stuck in a miserable Assisted Living Facility surrounded by very old ……. and very straight …. people just sitting around waiting to die. He is reduced to one single pleasure of chain-smoking More Cigarettes, which even that he has to do surreptitiously to avoid the wrath of the Home’s staff.
However, his routine is broken one day with a visit from a Lawyer carrying the Last Will and Testimony of one of Mr. Pat’s ex-clients (the Client is played by Linda Evans who came out to retirement especially for this). Even though she had ‘dumped’ Mr, Pat years ago and had gone to have her beauty treatment at a new salon started by his ex-employee. it was Pat she wanted to do her final makeover now that she was dead. She obviously knew he would refuse to humor her so had left $25,000 in the Will To pay him.
What follows is the most entertaining of gentle comedies that follow Mr. Pat’s adventures back out in a world that has changed drastically past recognition since he moved into the home. Every encounter he has, whether it be with his ex-employee (superbly played straight by Jennifer Coolidge) or at the grocery store reeling from discovering how much a pack of More’s cost, is nothing less than a sheer delight simply because he is played by the legendary veteran actor Udo Kier.
Looking like a German/American version of Quentin Crisp, Kier is in his absolute element in a role that he just totally embodies from the very first scene. It’s yet another sublimely subtle performance of a lifetime from this seasoned actor who knows exactly how to extract every comic nuance out of every single line without ever going too far. His ‘Mr Pat’ completely memorizes you and it’s impossible not to fall totally in love with him.
In focusing part of the story on Mr. Pat reminiscing on his triumphant days as a Drag Queen in the one local gay bar (now actually facing closure), gives Stephens an opportunity to raise the issue of the potential loneliness of elderly gay men who may have to go back into a closet to survive in an unsympathetic straight world.
Kier lists some 270 film performances in his stunning career that ranges from the films (and bed) of Rainer Werner Fassbinder plus Andy Warhol in an unprecedented career that has made him an iconic queer star (He has even appeared in a Madonna video). We are eternally grateful to Stephens for writing this piece especially for him.
The movie may be Mr Pat’s Swan Song, but thankfully it is no Kier’s who has made 4 more movies and one TV series since. We cannot wait to see more of him….. although we are still not sure if we want to visit Sandusky yet.
Swan Song is released in the US by Magnolia Pictures on 8/6/21.
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