SXSW Documentary Review: ‘Swan Song’ And Interview With The Makers

By James Lindorf

Udo Kier has been acting for longer than most people’s parents have been alive. His career has spanned seven decades and has ranged from heartbreaking to absurd. Whether you enjoyed him in “Suspiria,” “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne,” “Blade,” “Melancholia,” or “The Painted Bird,” it is safe to say you’ve probably never seen him lip-syncing to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” while a chandelier short-circuits on his head. He does just that and much more in “Swan Song,” his latest movie, which made its World Premiere at SXSW Online 2021.

Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) used to be the King, though he may prefer the Queen of the Sandusky Ohio hairdressing scene. Now confined to a nursing home with no outlet for his passion Pat is wasting away. But when he gets word that a former client’s dying wish was for Pat to style her final hairdo, he sets out on an epic journey across Sandusky. Pat will meet many characters and have to confront a few ghosts from his past to collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job. “Swan Song” was written and directed by Todd Stephens. Udo Kier is joined by a solid supporting cast featuring Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde), Linda Evans (Dynasty), Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Ira Hawkins, and Stephanie McVay.

Stephens’ film is not only an homage to a man who helped shape his life but also pays tribute to an aging part of the queer community. Time is always marching forward and leaving people behind, and that time has come for Pat and the other flamboyant gay men who led the pride parade before it even existed. Now that the parade has passed him by, Pat confesses, “I wouldn’t even know how to be gay anymore.” While many things have changed, that doesn’t mean that Pat cannot teach the kids a thing or two while he still has time.

“Swan Song” is a lot like its subject, rough on the outside but with a good heart. The film lacks polish, and some of the dramatic scenes can skew towards corny or awkward. However, it does capture a certain beauty in its sincere depiction of a lost and broken man. Pat is trying to find his place in the world and maybe just maybe reclaiming some of his past glory. Udo is tremendous and genuinely embraces the character and makes the most of his adventure. His commitment to the role, no matter how depressing our broad it gets, is what makes the film worth watching. Though she doesn’t get as much screen time as I would like, it is great to see Jennifer Coolidge give a performance different from what she has given over and over during the last 20 years. “Swan Song” may not be SXSW’s belle of the ball, but it will find and delight its audience.

Director/Screenwriter: Todd Stephens
Producers: Todd Stephens, Eric Eisenbrey, Tim Kaltenecker, Stephen Israel
Cast: Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans, Michael Urie, Ira Hawkins, Stephanie McVay
Running Time: 105 minutes

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