Greater than 20 years after releasing “Fringe of Seventeen” and “Gypsy 83,” the American filmmaker Todd Stephens has returned to his hometown of Sandusky to finish his indie Ohio trilogy with “Swan Track,” an intimate and heartfelt tribute to an eccentric, larger-than-life native hairdresser who left an immeasurable mark on his life.
Directed, written and produced by Stephens, the bittersweet new movie, which has received rave reviews from critics, follows the real-life retired hairdresser named Pat Pitsenbarger (performed by the 76-year-old German actor Udo Kier) — who was higher often called Mr. Pat in his prime — who on this fictionalized storyline escapes the confines of his grim, small-town nursing dwelling after being tasked to model his ex-client Rita’s (Linda Evans) hair for her funeral. Within the technique of accumulating magnificence provides throughout city, Pat, whose solitary existence in Sandusky is introduced into focus as one of many final surviving homosexual males of his technology, begins to confront the ghosts of his previous on his approach to the funeral dwelling.
“‘Swan Track’ is a love letter to the quickly disappearing ‘homosexual tradition’ of America,” Stephens wrote in his director’s assertion. “Because it has change into extra acceptable to be queer, what was a thriving neighborhood is quickly melting again into society … ‘Swan Track’ is devoted to all of the forgotten flaming florists and hairdressers who constructed the neighborhood and blazed the path for the rights many people cling to in the present day. However, above all, for me this movie is about studying that it’s by no means too late to dwell once more.”
Born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio, which is situated about two hours away from Columbus, he has produced movies about protagonists who’ve longed to depart their small hometowns in favor of dwelling extra metropolitan life in New York Metropolis. However the filmmaker stated that he was impressed to return to his roots after discovering that the city, which was as soon as “fairly conservative and somewhat closed-minded,” had change into “rather more open-minded” in recent times.
“I’ve all the time had a love-hate relationship with my hometown, as I’m certain many people have over time, however I’ve begun to really feel myself drawn again,” Stephens informed NBC Information in a latest video interview. “The city itself was type of like a rust belt, industrial Midwestern city. Just about all of the factories have closed, so it’s been fairly down and out. However in recent times, it’s actually coming again to life, and that truly impressed me to inform this story a couple of man that was down and out and was coming again to life.”
When he first got down to solid the function of Pat, Stephens admitted that he had initially written the screenplay with the late Gene Wilder in thoughts. Nevertheless it wasn’t till Kier, a legendary actor with over 250 credit to his title, expressed curiosity in enjoying a dramatically completely different character from those he’s performed previously that issues started to click on into place for Stephens.
“I can’t consider anyone else aside from Udo that might have actually performed it,” he stated. “We didn’t count on to solid a German actor with an accent. The opposite Pat is from West Virginia, and it wasn’t what I initially got down to do. However as soon as we considered the thought, and Udo and I met and linked, I simply knew that he was the one. We knew one another for a 12 months earlier than we shot the movie, and we actually talked about it lots and have become associates.”
After a 12 months of pre-production, the low-budget movie entered manufacturing for 18 days and was shot nearly totally in chronological order, permitting Kier to take a extra methodical and immersive strategy to embodying one of many city’s former homosexual icons.
“Todd and I agreed that I’m not going to go excessive, and we had talked lots about it earlier than. However once we began capturing, we hardly rehearsed all of the scenes, as a result of then it might have change into appearing and correction, and we didn’t need that,” stated Kier, who “had no concern by any means” when he signed onto the challenge and made some extent to expertise lots of the similar emotions as his onscreen counterpart all through the shoot.
After fleeing the retirement dwelling and visiting lots of the locations that had outlined his life in Ohio, Pat enters a clothes retailer, the place the proprietor acknowledges him from his days as a outstanding hairstylist and provides him a white and inexperienced swimsuit and a purple hat.
“From the second I put it on, I by no means took it off,” Kier stated of the distinctive look that helped him higher perceive his character’s quiet flamboyance. “I’m a part of the technology of David Bowie and Elton John, they usually had been younger and really flamboyant. So, for me, the second I had the swimsuit on and even acquired the hat, I went to city, and [it felt like] Pat was on the town, too.”
For Stephens, whose first two movies of the Ohio trilogy centered on youthful members of the LGBTQ neighborhood, it was all the time necessary to shine a highlight on an older member in “Swan Track” whose foremost battle is not grappling with sexuality.
“I prefer to name it like a post-gay movie or post-coming-out movie. Being homosexual just isn’t the battle; the battle is getting outdated, the battle is shedding your love for what you like to do, shedding your objective,” he stated.
“I needed to make it very clear initially [when] Pat goes into the gasoline station, and there’s type of a redneck man working there, and also you’d count on one thing dangerous may occur,” he continued. “I believe Pat’s nearly making an attempt to get somewhat rise out of him, however the man simply doesn’t care. A Christian girl picks him up within the pickup, and she or he’s very loving and accepting. Pat misplaced his lover and most of his associates to [old] age. He’s one of many solely individuals — one of many solely survivors — of his technology, so I suppose that’s a little bit of a battle.”
Having witnessed the devastating influence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic within the Eighties, Stephens stated that he additionally needed to “pay tribute and homage” to the people whose lives had been lower quick by the illness.
“I got here from somewhat small city, and the plague hit my city. Half a technology of homosexual males died,” he stated. “Simply consider all of the songs that had been by no means written and all of the work that had been by no means painted, and simply how that modified the world, and what an enormous loss it was.”
“I’m a movie trainer, and a few of my college students are queer. And the 18-year-old children, a variety of the time, they don’t know something in regards to the AIDS disaster, however but, I believe they’ve an curiosity in studying,” he added. “Perhaps youthful generations are eager to know extra about their historical past, as a result of we have to learn about our previous to know learn how to dwell our future.”
Since premiering the movie on the 2021 SXSW Movie Pageant in March, Stephens and Kier stated they’ve acquired overwhelmingly optimistic suggestions from individuals of all ages — however significantly from youthful viewers.
“Now that we’ve begun to display screen it in theaters and be capable of discuss to individuals and stuff, this movie actually appears to talk to younger individuals, and I don’t fairly perceive why, however I’m very fascinated by that,” Stephens stated.
“We’ve been by a horrible final 18 months, and there’s lastly a movie the place you’ve gotten tears in your eyes, you giggle, and also you observe a personality in a land which no one is aware of,” Kier stated. “I’m nonetheless shocked in regards to the success yesterday. We had a displaying at a college, and there have been two younger ladies speaking to Todd, they usually had been saying, ’It’s among the finest movies we’ve seen this 12 months.’ Perhaps outdated individuals my age can perceive they usually adore it, nevertheless it’s the younger generations who get sucked in.”
With a physique of labor spanning greater than half a century, Kier has performed a wealth of darkish, brooding supporting characters in productions directed by the likes of Paul Morrissey, Dario Argento and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He has loved a late-career resurgence as an unlikely “main man” — a title that has eluded him for a lot of his skilled profession.
“I’m very glad. I can’t consider that the critics from America are writing that that is my greatest movie. The headline in Entertainment Weekly was, after 50 years, Udo Kier lastly turns into a number one man, so that could be a very massive praise,” he stated incredulously. “However now sooner or later, I can solely search for main components. So I’ll be a gardener, working within the backyard and caring for my animals, and I’ll wait till the main man is requested once more.”
“Swan Track” is now out there in choose theaters and shall be out there on demand beginning Aug. 13.