TODD Stephens has created a masterpiece in Swan Song, a film that will long live in the memory.
Like the careful preparation of an artichoke for fine dining, Stephens (Another Gay Movie, Edge Of Seventeen and Gypsy 83) gently removes layer upon layer from the somewhat troubled soul that is Pat Pitsenbarger to reveal an individual of considerable talent, verve and kindness.
It’s a work of tenderness and love that will make you smile and shed the odd tear or two. Stephens, who describes the film as a love letter to the fast disappearing gay culture of America, bases the story around Pitsenbarger who he first saw performing as a Drag Queen in his home town of Sandusky in Ohio back in the 1980s.
In the film, we initially see Pitsenbarger (a quite sensational Udo Kier) whiling away what remains of his life in a rather frightening nursing home. You sense he’s a rogue straightaway as he secretly smokes Mores’ cigarettes, occasionally lighting one for a wheelchair bound woman who speaks no words. His quick rearrangement of her hair confirms his reputation as a once formidable hairdresser to Sandusky’s great and good.
Pitsenbarger, prone to low level theft, is visited by a funeral director who asks him to prepare the hair of a former client of his – republican Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans of Dynasty fame) – who has just died.
It triggers his escape from the home and the beginning of a journey into Sandusky that fills in the holes about Pitsenbarger’s life – one scarred by loss (his boyfriend, David, to AIDS), financial treachery, business treachery (his assistant Dee Dee Dale – Jennifer Coolidge – setting up a rival hairdresser’s in the same town) and a dear client who turned against him as a result of his boyfriend’s death, but without explaining why.
Yet, the story is not without its brighter moments: his (imaginary) meeting with fellow Gay friend Eunice (an ebullient Ira Hawkins); his positive impact on the grandson of Parker Sloan (Michael Urie’s Dustin) and a lovely encounter with shop owner Sue (a delightful Stephanie McVay) who kits him out to shock. And, best of all, Pitsenbarger’s marvellous reprise of his days as a flamboyant Drag Queen – jewels, amazing head gear and much more besides. Josiah (Dave Sorboro), the bartender at The Universal Fruit and Nut Company, is quite simply blown away by what he sees.
Swan Song is simply a cinematic treat. Super music (score by Chris Stephens), eye popping costumes (Shawna-Nova Foley and Kitty Boots) and a central character who you can’t help but fall in love with him. Bitter sweet, yes. But brilliant with it.
Swan Song – In cinemas 10th June