More than 20 years afterwards absolution “Edge of Seventeen” and “Gypsy 83,” the American filmmaker Todd Stephens has alternate to his hometown of Sandusky to complete his indie Ohio leash with “Swan Song,” an affectionate and ardent accolade to an eccentric, larger-than-life bounded beautician who larboard an immeasurable mark on his life.
Directed, accounting and produced by Stephens, the apricot new film, which has accustomed babble reviews from critics, follows the real-life retired hairdresser named Pat Pitsenbarger (played by the 76-year-old German amateur Udo Kier) — who was bigger accepted as Mr. Pat in his prime — who in this fictionalized storyline escapes the borders of his grim, alone nursing home afterwards actuality tasked to appearance his ex-client Rita’s (Linda Evans) beard for her funeral. In the action of accession adorableness food beyond town, Pat, whose aloof actuality in Sandusky is brought into focus as one of the aftermost actual gay men of his generation, begins to accost the ghosts of his accomplished on his way to the burial home.
“‘Swan Song’ is a adulation letter to the rapidly dematerialization ‘gay culture’ of America,” Stephens wrote in his director’s statement. “As it has become added adequate to be queer, what acclimated to be a advancing association is rapidly melting aback into association … ‘Swan Song’ is committed to all the abandoned ablaze florists and hairdressers who congenital the association and blazed the aisle for the rights abounding of us adhere to today. But, aloft all, for me this blur is about acquirements that it’s never too backward to alive again.”
Born and aloft in Sandusky, Ohio, which is amid about two hours abroad from Columbus, he has produced films about protagonists who accept longed to leave their baby hometowns in favor of active added city lifestyles in New York City. But the filmmaker said that he was aggressive to acknowledgment to his roots afterwards advertent that the town, which was already “pretty bourgeois and a little closed-minded,” had become “much added open-minded” in contempo years.
“I’ve consistently had a love-hate accord with my hometown, as I’m abiding abounding of us accept over the years, but I’ve amorphous to feel myself fatigued back,” Stephens told NBC News in a contempo video interview. “The boondocks itself was affectionate of like a blight belt, automated Midwestern town. Appealing abundant all the factories accept closed, so it’s been appealing bottomward and out. But in contempo years, it’s absolutely advancing aback to life, and that absolutely aggressive me to acquaint this adventure about a man that was bottomward and out and was advancing aback to life.”
When he aboriginal set out to casting the role of Pat, Stephens accepted that he had initially accounting the cine with the backward Gene Wilder in mind. But it wasn’t until Kier, a allegorical amateur with over 250 credits to his name, bidding absorption in arena a badly altered appearance from the ones he’s played in the accomplished that things began to bang into abode for Stephens.
“I can’t anticipate of anybody abroad added than Udo that could accept absolutely done it,” he said. “We didn’t apprehend to casting a German amateur with an accent. The added Pat is from West Virginia, and it wasn’t what I originally set out to do. But already we anticipation of the idea, and Udo and I met and connected, I aloof knew that he was the one. We knew anniversary added for a year afore we attempt the film, and we absolutely talked about it a lot and became friends.”
After a year of pre-production, the low-budget blur entered assembly for 18 canicule and was attempt about absolutely in archival order, acceptance Kier to booty a added methodical and immersive access to embodying one of the town’s above gay icons.
“Todd and I agreed that I’m not activity to go over the top, and we had talked a lot about it before. But back we started shooting, we hardly apposite all the scenes, because afresh it would accept become acting and correction, and we didn’t appetite that,” said Kier, who “had no abhorrence whatsoever” back he active assimilate the activity and fabricated a point to acquaintance abounding of the aforementioned animosity as his onscreen analogue throughout the shoot.
After beat the retirement home and visiting abounding of the places that had authentic his activity in Ohio, Pat enters a accouterment store, area the buyer recognizes him from his canicule as a arresting hairstylist and gives him a white and blooming clothing and a amethyst hat.
“From the moment I put it on, I never took it off,” Kier said of the characteristic attending that helped him bigger accept his character’s quiet flamboyance. “I’m allotment of the bearing of David Bowie and Elton John, and they were adolescent and actual flamboyant. So, for me, the moment I had the clothing on and alike got the hat, I went to town, and [it acquainted like] Pat was in town, too.”
For Stephens, whose aboriginal two films of the Ohio leash centered on adolescent associates of the LGBTQ community, it was consistently important to flash a spotlight on an earlier affiliate in “Swan Song” whose capital battle is no best grappling with sexuality.
“I like to alarm it like a post-gay blur or post-coming-out film. Actuality gay is not the conflict; the battle is accepting old, the battle is accident your adulation for what you adulation to do, accident your purpose,” he said.
“I capital to accomplish it actual bright at the alpha [when] Pat goes into the gas station, and there’s affectionate of a redneck guy alive there, and you’d apprehend article bad could happen,” he continued. “I anticipate Pat’s about aggravating to get a little acceleration out of him, but the guy aloof doesn’t care. A Christian woman picks him up in the pickup, and she’s actual admiring and accepting. Pat absent his lover and best of his accompany to [old] age. He’s one of the alone bodies — one of the alone survivors — of his generation, so I accept that’s a bit of a conflict.”
Having witnessed the adverse appulse of the HIV/AIDS catching in the 1980s, Stephens said that he additionally capital to “pay accolade and homage” to the individuals whose lives were cut abbreviate by the disease.
“I came from a little baby town, and the affliction hit my town. Bisected a bearing of gay men died,” he said. “Just anticipate of all the songs that were never accounting and all the paintings that were never painted, and aloof how that afflicted the world, and what a huge accident it was.”
“I’m a blur teacher, and some of my acceptance are queer. And the 18-year-old kids, a lot of the time, they don’t apperceive annihilation about the AIDS crisis, but yet, I anticipate they accept an absorption in learning,” he added. “Maybe adolescent ancestors are absent to apperceive added about their history, because we charge to apperceive about our accomplished to apperceive how to alive our future.”
Since premiering the blur at the 2021 SXSW Blur Festival in March, Stephens and Kier said they accept accustomed overwhelmingly absolute acknowledgment from bodies of all ages — but decidedly from adolescent viewers.
“Now that we’ve amorphous to awning it in theaters and be able to allocution to bodies and stuff, this blur absolutely seems to allege to adolescent people, and I don’t absolutely accept why, but I’m actual absorbed by that,” Stephens said.
“We’ve been through a abhorrent aftermost 18 months, and there’s assuredly a blur area you accept tears in your eyes, you laugh, and you chase a appearance in a acreage which cipher knows,” Kier said. “I’m still afraid about the success yesterday. We had a assuming at a university, and there were two adolescent girls talking to Todd, and they were saying, ’It’s one of the best films we’ve apparent this year.’ Maybe old bodies my age can accept and they adulation it, but it’s the adolescent ancestors who get sucked in.”
With a anatomy of assignment spanning added than bisected a century, Kier has played a abundance of dark, absorption acknowledging characters in productions directed by the brand of Paul Morrissey, Dario Argento and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He has enjoyed a late-career improvement as an absurd “leading man” — a appellation that has eluded him for abundant of his able career.
“I’m actual happy. I cannot accept that the critics from America are autograph that this is my best film. The banderole in Entertainment Weekly was, afterwards 50 years, Udo Kier assuredly becomes a arch man, so that is a actual big compliment,” he said incredulously. “But now in the future, I can alone attending for arch parts. So I’ll be a gardener, alive in the garden and demography affliction of my animals, and I’ll delay until the arch man is requested again.”
“Swan Song” is now accessible in baddest theaters and will be accessible on appeal starting Aug. 13.
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