Swan Song

Swan Song – Stephens’ flamboyant and touching movie is an instant classic


Swan Song arrives in cinemas nationwide on June 10th.

READ MORE: Swan Song: In Conversation with Todd Stephens

It’s hard to believe that Todd Stephens’ semi-autobiographical movie Edge of Seventeen was released twenty-four years ago or that Gypsy 83, the second film in his Ohio trilogy, is twenty-one years old. Swan Song sees Stephens return to Sandusky, Ohio, his home town, with an intimate and celebratory tribute to Mr Pat, a hairdresser, performer and local legend.

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), known as ‘Mr Pat’, was once the talk of the town, his hairdressing business the centre of community life and his performances in the local gay bar legendary. Mr Pat now resides in a nursing home, spending his money on illicit ‘More’ cigarettes while neatly folding paper napkins to while away the hours of silence. After the death of one of his prestigious ex-clients, the Republican politician Rita (Linda Evans), Pat receives a request to do Rita’s hair and make-up for the upcoming funeral. Pat declines the offer; after all, he has no supplies, and Rita left him when he most needed her, so why should he be there for her final send-off? But as he folds yet another paper napkin, Pat decides it’s time to confront the ghosts of his past and return to the town that holds so many memories in a final flamboyant, tender and touching odyssey.


Every gay venue in every town has its legends, from those who campaigned for community equality to those who cared for others during the AIDS epidemic and stuck two fingers up at the world with pride and defiance. These icons used to sit at the bar of any local gay pub; they were royalty and were treated as such. Many didn’t suffer fools gladly with their cutting humour and defiant tone, their treasure trove of memories and knowledge celebrated as they sipped their drinks and puffed on their cigarettes. They were the gatekeepers of the local gay community and the custodians of its history.


However, since the late 1990s, these figures have slowly disappeared, the lively, free-wheeling community-driven gay venues they presided over replaced by cocktail bars, restaurants and coffee shops. During these years, the gay scene has changed forever, with the heart of the LGBTQ+ community vanishing through the march of time and social progress. These themes ripple through Stephens’ film and are brought into sharp focus when Mr Pat sees two gay dads playing with their kids and says, “I wouldn’t even know how to be gay now.” Stephens’ movie is a sharp, witty and bittersweet love letter to a changing gay world that now actively alienates many older LGBTQ+ people – the people who handed younger generations the freedoms they now celebrate.

Swan Song
Udo Kier in Swan Song ©Peccadillo Pictures

But if all this sounds sombre, fear not because Swan Song is also incredibly funny and delightfully vibrant. Stephens’ film is packed with wit and charm, from Mr Pat’s search for hair products now labelled toxic to his reunion with his former protégé, Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge).

This humour is matched by a tender, touching and beautiful exploration of Mr Pat’s life as he revisits moments and ghosts from his past. Here we learn that Pat’s lover, David, died of AIDS during the height of the pandemic, with Pat’s straight hairdressing clients shunning him for Dee Dee in the process – their loving home demolished after David’s nephew threw him out to sell it. These experiences were common for life partners of Pat’s generation as a lack of marriage rights saw ‘husbands’ isolated and ignored by their partners’ families on death. Central to this balance of humour, emotion, eccentricity, and joy is the amazing Udo Kier, a tour de force throughout Stephen’s film. In Keir’s loving hands, Mr Pat comes alive with the passion, difference and defiance of all those ageing queer icons who used to sit at the bar in your local gay venue. But when this divine performance dovetails with Stephens’ exceptional screenplay, Swan Song becomes a glittering gem – flamboyant, touching and heartwarming; Swan Song is an instant classic.




Flamboyant, touching and heartwarming; Swan Song is an instant classic.

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