What do you mean you’ve never heard of Udo Kier? You’ll know the face, through; Kier is something of a legend, having appeared in films as truly diverse as Suspiria, Breaking the Waves, Johnny Mnemonic, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Story of O and Brawl in Cell Block 99, as well as being a regular muse for major cultural figures like Andy Warhol and Lars Von Trier. A career like that deserves a monumental Swan Song, and that’s exactly what writer/director Todd Stephens provides here.
Kier plays Pat Pitsenbarger, a gay roué who finds himself in an old folks home in Sandusky Ohio. He busts out with a purpose; he’s been asked to do the hair and make-up for a prominent Republican society-wife, played by Linda Evans. The only catch is, she’s dead; Pat’s job is to make her look as good as she can for an open casket funeral. Smoking like a chimney and sporting several diverse outfits, Pat’s journey is a Straight Story last hurrah, building slowly from small victories to a bitter-sweet but upbeat finale.
Swan Song doesn’t quite have the non-stop party mood that the trailer suggests in a Priscilla Queen of the Desert style. Pat is dying, and the world around him has changed, as several torch songs like Dusty Springfield’s Yesterday When I Was Young on the soundtrack attest. But Stephens works closely to Kier’s wonderfully louche persona, with tart encounters with a local beautician (a game Jennifer Coolidge) ramping up the drama, and poignant use of songs like Melissa Manchester’s Don’t Cry Out Loud. And don’t think you’ll be spared a little Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland to boot…
Such needle-drops suggest Swan Song may well play to an LGBTQ+ gallery, but if Swan Song passes muster as a camp classic, it’s one that expands its reach and finds a niche in the mainstream. It’s not exactly Death in Venice when the hero hits a drag club to Robyn’s propulsive anthem Dancing on My Own, and as for his electrifying costume; it’s the hands-down best look since Catherine O’Hara’s wedding outfit in Schitt’s Creek. Swan Song is a funny, warm-hearted film that showcases Kier’s remarkable talent and charisma; you don’t have to be gay to like it, you just have to be in touch with your fabulous side.
Thanks to Peccadillo Pictures for access. UK DVD/ BLU-RAY AND VOD RELEASE: 29 AUG 2022
DVD/ blu-ray extras include The Real Pat Pitsenbarger Featurette; Casting Featurette; In Conversation with Writer/ Director Todd Stephens and Udo Kier; Audio Commentary with Todd Stephens, Udo Kier and Producers Eric Eisenbrey & Tim Kaltenecker; Udo Kier Iris Prize Acceptance Speech; UK Theatrical Trailer