SWAN SONG follows retired hairdresser and local bar performer icon Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) who has given up on life from the confines of his small-town Sandusky, Ohio nursing home. But when Pat gets word that a former client’s dying wish was for him to style her final hairdo, he sets out on an epic journey across Sandusky to confront the ghosts of his past – and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job. SWAN SONG is a comical and bittersweet journey about rediscovering oneself, and looking gorgeous while doing so. Director Todd Stephens joins us for a conversation on the personally inspired origin story of Swan Song, how the casting of Udo Kier sharpened the film’s focus and the revelatory performance of Kier’s (Pitsenbarger) rival Best in Show’s Jennifer Coolidge’s (Dee Dee Dale).
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Director’s Statement – Back in 1984, I walked into my small-town gay bar for the first time — The Universal Fruit and Nut Company. There he was, glittering on the dancefloor. Wearing a teal feather boa, fedora and matching pantsuit, “Mister Pat” Pitsenbarger was busting old school moves straight out of Bob Fosse. I was seventeen, and Pat was a revelation. Years later, when I set out to write my autobiographical “Edge Of Seventeen”, I immediately thought of Mister Pat. I went back home to hunt him down, only to discover Pat had just suffered an aneurism and was temporarily unable to speak. But his lover David told me stories…about how Pat was once the most fabulous hairdresser in Sandusky, Ohio…about his legendary drag performances…about how he used to shop at Kroger’s dressed as Carol Burnett – in 1967! This was a man who always had the courage to be himself, long before that was safe. The truth is, Mister Pat inspired me to write “Edge Of Seventeen”. I wrote a significant “Pat” character as my protagonist’s mentor, but midway through the shoot, the part got cut. I always knew my muse would return someday in my writing, and when he finally did many years later, I looked for Pat again only to learn he just passed away. Sadly, Pat’s legendary hand-beaded rhinestone gowns are all lost to time. Only a shoebox remains – filled with some tarnished jewelry and a half-smoked pack of Mores. ”Swan Song” is a love letter to the rapidly disappearing “gay culture” of America. As it has become more acceptable to be queer, what used to be a thriving community is rapidly melting back into society. Thanks to assimilation and technology, small-town gay bars like The Universal Fruit and Nut Company are becoming extinct. “Swan Song” is dedicated to all the forgotten flaming florists and hairdressers who built the gay community and blazed the trail for the rights many of us cling to today. But, above all, for me this film is about learning that it’s never too late to live again. – Todd Stephens
About the filmmaker – Todd wrote, produced and directed “Another Gay Movie” and “Gypsy 83” and also wrote and produced “Edge Of Seventeen.” All four of his previous features won numerous festival awards and were released theatrically all over the world. Todd is currently a Professor of Film at School of Visual Arts in NYC.
92% on Rotten Tomatoes
“Kier gives a career-high performance and deserves to be remembered during awards season. Coolidge and the rest of the supporting cast are all exceptional, allowing Swan Song to take wing and soar.” – Gregg Shapiro, Bay Area Reporter
“In what can be described as screen legend Udo Kier’s role of his career, “Swan Song” gives him the freedom to spread his wings and fly.” – Sarah Knight Adamson, Sarah’s Backstage Pass
“What’s most notable about Todd Stephens’ heartfelt salute to a real-life local legend is that the campiness of its outrageous plot becomes secondary to the soulful poignancy.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“Swan Song, directed by Todd Stephens and based on the real-life Pitsenbarger, isn’t a dense work, but it is a highly satisfying one.” – Douglas Laman, The Spool
“’Swan Song’ is a showcase for Udo Kier that is victoriously vulnerable, inspiringly extravagant, and emotionally indulgent as he tackles a role that will deservedly help define his storied career.” – Matt Donato, WhatToWatch