Swan Song pays tribute to gay small-town superheroes of yesteryear. Iconic character actor Udo Kier takes on the role of loud, camp, witty local identity, hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger. It once seemed every community had a ‘Mr Pat’ of their own. However, with modern visibility and the entertainment industry co-opting camp, those wonderful men went the way of dinosaurs.
The movie begins with the founding member of the local gay community now in a nursing home. With his husband dead and his partying days behind him, nothing remains for the former society hairdresser and drag performer but memories, smoking and waiting for the inevitable.
But then, he’s jolted from reveries of days gone by. He receives a call to style a longtime client – for her wake.
“Bury her with bad hair,” he quips initially before deciding to undertake the task.
Swan Song takes on a road trip sensibility thereafter. Pat flees the twilight home in search of the product necessary for the task. But life and hairdressing have moved on – once indispensable products now discontinued.
Linda Evans and Jennifer Coolidge
Along the way, Pat chats with old friends, including ghosts of clients past, notably Dynasty’s Linda Evans as the woman whose hair he’s about to do.
His need for a particular product sees him forced into the premise of Dee Dee (Jennifer Coolidge). Once a protege, she later launched a rival business across the street and put him out of business. The frenemies battle it out one last time.
Pat eventually pops into an op-shop and acquires a vintage 1980s lime-green pants suit from a former customer. Coming soon to a party near you – the soon-to-be-iconic pantsuit – as celebrated as the thong dress from Priscilla or Liz Hurley’s safety pin dress.
Some reviews of Swan Sing ponder whether the movie takes cinematic liberties with the character. Youthful scribes convey scepticism that so fabulous and flamboyant a creature, defiantly loud, proud and over-the-top, could have existed in smalltown America. Even more incredibly, that Mr Pat could have prospered as the must-have hairdresser to conservative society matrons.
FFS. Have they ever spoken to anyone over the age of twelve? Mr Pats once abounded, even here in Australia. Effervescent, and by turn, witty or shitty, louder than life gay men added colour and character to communities and conservatives couldn’t get enough of them. Those men gave our communities visibility, and respect, and helped usher in the modern era of continuing LGBTIQ+ progress.
Udo Kier’s performance is a tour de force and Swan Song, a genuine and poignant portrayal of a character such as we may never see again. Once, there were giants.
In cinemas December 26.
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