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Movie: Swan Song

  • Jo Siedlecka

Released during Pride Month, Swan Song is a touching story, beautifully told - with a powerful performance from the legendary German actor Udo Kier. (Beginning his life with the same flare for the dramatic that would come to define his career, Keir was born in Köln, Germany near the end of World War Two. The hospital was bombed and buried Kier and his mother in the rubble. Both survived, and Kier would later move to London as a young adult to study English before embarking on his acting career.)

Swansong is set in Sandusky, Ohio, a small town in America's midwest. The film opens with Kier as a weary old retired gay hairdresser, stuck in some sort of old people's facility, where he sits idly folding and and unfolding napkins in between staggering down to the canteen for meals when they are announced on a loudspeaker.

All that changes after he receives an unexpected invitation and sets out on an odyssey, rediscovering his old haunts in the small town and catches up with long lost friends. Bit by bit his energy and his sparkle returns.

Writer-director Todd Stephens says he based Pat's character on a real-life figure from his old home town. He describes Swan Song as a 'love letter' to the rapidly disappearing gay culture of small town America with its little gay bars and clubs and their often outrageous clientele, who back in the day built up the gay community and blazed the trail for their rights - which, he says, are taken for granted by younger people. (Is that completely true? I don't know)

For me this film is more about the importance of following your dreams, never giving up. It also has a good deal to say about the treatment of the elderly. Should they really be hidden away, separated from the rest of the community? Ignored? Pope Francis has said a lot about this issue over the years.

At an audience for participants in a conference on pastoral care of the elderly in January 2020, the Pope said old age is "a precious treasure that takes shape in the journey of every man and woman's life, whatever their origins, background, or economic or social conditions." He said: "Life is a gift, and when it is long it is a privilege, for oneself and for others. Always." He called on the Church to care for the elderly, going to them with "a smile on your face and the Gospel in your hands".

He also noted that the world is facing a significant demographic change, with fewer young people and a large increase in the number of elderly. He said that issues facing the elderly - including social disorientation, and societal attitudes of indifference and rejection, are a call to the Church and to society "to serious reflection in order to learn to grasp and appreciate the value of old age."

Sandusky is depicted as quite a kindly place in this film. There are plenty of authentic cameo performances - including one from Linda Evans of Dynasty fame. When Pat escapes from his home and quickly hitches a lift into town, he does not meet a single homophobic person. The prejudice he does encounter is more that of ageism - young hairdressers laugh at the dated products he wants to buy and a gay youth in a bar views him with slight incredulity. Pat responds with dignity and grace to the people who patronise him and wallows in the affection and respect he receives from the real old friends he reconnects with.

A thoughtful, sad and funny film.

Watch a trailer here:


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