Sandusky-based filmmaker Todd Stephens’ new film “Swan Song” is a tribute to small town gay pioneers “who have the courage to be themselves.”
CLEVELAND, Ohio – A dozen years after his last film, acclaimed Sandusky-born filmmaker Todd Stephens returns with his latest project, “Swan Song.”
Opening in limited release Friday (August 6), including at the Cedar Lee Theater, “Swan Song” marks the final installment of Stephens’ Ohio trilogy, which began with 1998’s “Edge of Seventeen” and 2001’s “Gypsy 83”. . “
Latest film stars legendary actor Udo Kier as retired hairstylist Pat “Mister Pat” Pitsenbarger, who escapes from a nursing home for a final hairdressing and doll job to a former client. deceased.
Stephens, currently a film teacher at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, met the real Mister Pat in 1984 when he walked into the gay bar Sandusky The Universal Fruit and Nut Company and saw the barber court and dance. in a storm wearing a teal feather. boa, fedora and matching pantsuit.
We recently caught up with Stephens to discuss chameleon Udo Kier, his beloved Sandusky, and world giants Mister Pat.
Todd, congratulations on the movie. How long has “Swan Song” been on your radar?
I have wanted to make this film for 20 years. My first movie was called “Edge of Seventeen”. I actually wrote a character of Mister Pat in that movie, but we literally couldn’t find the right actor to play him, so we ended up combining his role into a role played by Lea DeLaria. Since then, I always knew that I wanted to pay tribute to this guy that I barely knew but who marked me enormously. My second movie, which is called “Gypsy ’83” and also takes place in Sandusky, was also a bit of the same special place in my heart, but it didn’t really fly commercially. He received some really horrible reviews, which really hurt me. It took me a lot of years – and a lot of therapy – to get back to where I was ready to tell this side of myself again.
Let’s talk about the casting of Udo Kier as Mister Pat. Did you know from the start that he was a good fit?
Mr. Pat had very beautiful big blue eyes. Just physically, there was a resemblance. It was my casting director who came up with the idea for Udo. I had to open my brain a bit and almost give it a shot. A lot of what I’d seen him do was these villainous and villainous roles, but I really dove deep into his filmography. I knew after meeting him that he was perfect. I wanted someone who had lived life, who had lost friends to AIDS and who could just have that personal representation as opposed to someone who was going to exaggerate or be exaggerated. We talked a lot about how Pat was a really flamboyant guy in real life, but he was quietly flamboyant. I wanted to capture this. Udo and I were on the same page.
“Swan Song” naturally unfolds in Sandusky, which is portrayed in the film as this friendly and tolerant town. Considering the odds are totally different from what you went through growing up there in the 80s, how did you set that up in your head?
It was very cathartic. When we first shot “Edge of Seventeen” there in 1997, we literally kept it a secret that it was a gay plot with gay characters because we felt people wouldn’t help us. . When you’re making a low budget movie, you need a lot of community support. It was upsetting in a way because I returned to my hometown after living in New York for 10 years to make a movie that celebrated me as a gay man and yet the production went back to the closet. Some people eventually found out and it caused controversy. They were unhappy with it. Fast forward 20 years later, when I got home to start pre-production on this movie, they were in the middle of the third annual Gay Pride Festival. Unlike “Edge of Seventeen”, for “Swan Song”, we were very open about what it was about. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. Just by using the barometer of my own small town it showed me how much the world has changed and it really gave me so much hope.
It seems the message behind “Swan Song” is simply the importance of being seen. This is evidenced by Pat’s complicated relationship with a high society woman from Sandusky (played by Linda Evans), who is a Reagan Republican. Why was this important?
I almost think that above all, the primary human need is to be seen. Pat has done this for so many people. I spoke to a lot of his former clients and they adored him just because he really cared about them and he was the person who could be told all his secrets. So he had these intimate relationships with these women that lasted for decades. The irony is that they haven’t really accepted it in their social circles. He says in the movie, “I’ve always known my place”, but that’s another way I think the world has changed. I think Pat today would party with all the ladies on the Champs-Élysées at Cedar Point.
There is a point in the film where someone says that today’s LGBTQ community rests on Pat’s shoulders. Can you explain?
I really made the film as a tribute to all the hairdressers, florists and interior designers in small towns who had the courage to be themselves. Seeing Mister Pat since I was a kid in town gave me the courage to be myself. I really believe they were like pioneers. They paved the way for a time when it was much riskier to be openly gay. They are the ones who changed the world because the people who came forward to their mother, aunt or their clients changed perceptions and created acceptance among homosexuals. I absolutely stand on the shoulders of Pat and all the Mister Pats in the world. They are heroes for me.