Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Some films are born to greatness, some achieve greatness and others become great despite what might appear to be insurmountable odds. For a film like ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘The Ten Commandments’ success was a given from the start of production. ‘The Godfather’ had some many production problems that many industry insiders seriously doubted it would be completed yet it is consistently listed among the pinnacles of the cinematic arts. If you were to encounter a film treatment that described a road trip film that followed a trio of drag queens in a gawky, broken down tour bus in the middle of the Australian outback you might be sure the film would be doomed before it could get started. Add to this the intention of casting three mainstream, serious actors in the roles and few would wager a stick of gum on the fate of the flick. You would be very wrong. This film, ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ and it not only found its niche in the cult classic forum of the midnight movie it is widely considered one of the raunchiest, funniest films since ‘Animal House’. The film remains popular with late night audiences who have surrounded the movie with the fan scripted audience participation commonly found with ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. The movie has been available on DVD for quite awhile now but MGM/UA has included it in the latest round of popular classic movies released in High definition. This Blu-ray edition brings every sequin, every flake of glitter into your home with crystal clarity. The lossless audio sound stage is expansive; as wide as the outback itself. You might have seen this film many times before in several venues but this will be like watching the pageantry for the first time. Admittedly this is one of the strangest movies you are likely to encounter. If you have been a fan of movies for any length of time it is reasonably certain that you have seen it and in that case it is nearly impossible not to get caught up in the unabashed enthusiasm projected by the case through the medium of classic disco era production numbers and songs.
The film is the crowning achievement for writer/director Stephan Elliott. He may not have a lot of movies on his resume and those that do appear there are mostly crime thrillers but this opus ensured his place in cinematic history. It resulted in an exceptional uproar while on the independent film festival circuit and garnered an Academy Award win for its outlandish costume designs. For many film buffs this was the first exposure to the Australian film community not to mention the first gay-lesbian-transgender film a lot of people ever had a chance to see. Needless to say this is quite a legacy for any movie to carry and for the last seventeen years this film has done so proudly. It is difficult to realize that such a short time as passed since the release of the movie; it seems that it has been around forever. Perhaps one reason for this impression is how it continues to sell out midnight showings rivaling ‘Rocky Horror’. "Priscilla’ is the kind of film that you either get or you don’t; there is little room for the indecisive. First and for most the story presented by the film is much more than the exploits of three men who have a perchance for dressing up in exceptionally flamboyant female attire. Now some of the themes found here are readily expressed in a number of popular songs namely, accept yourself as you are. The intrinsic meaning provided here id freedom of expression, sexual orientation and individuality.
The titular Priscilla is the name of s tour bus that three drag queens call home. Two of them, Felicia Jollygoodfellow/Adam (Guy Pearce) and Tick/Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving) are gay men while the third and oldest of the group, Bernadette Basinger (Terence Stamp) is in the midst of transitioning to a female form. Normally based in the relatively more liberal large city of Sidney the trio get in the dilapidated Priscilla to travel to the small town of Alice Springs located in the interior of the continent nation. To get there the ladies have to trek through the deserted landscape of the Australian outback. Along the way they meet with a variety of receptions from the amusement of Australian Aborigines to outright homophobic hostility in a small town the encounter along the way. The story contains a rich blend of music, comedy and drama on a deeply humanistic and universally identifiable level. Some soap opera like twists are provided when the true nature of Tick and Marion’s history is revealed; they are married with a son. This is used to address the double life many gay men live prior to their coming out. There is also the stereotypically flamboyant behavior exhibited by the youngest member of the troupe, Felicia.
It takes a group of exceptionally talented, dedicated actors to pull off a film like this. All three men had established themselves as notable and successful members of their craft each undertaking many emotionally difficult roles in the course of their careers. Here they demonstrate the axiom that comedy is difficult by creating their characters in an empathetic framework. I have heard that Elliott kept telling Stamp to play his character broader, more over the top providing a performance that was a surprise to the actor when he finally saw the finished cut. This process of not holding back in the music, comedy and drama help to make this movie into an enduring classic. The film holds together apart from the categorization of a cult flick; it is just something to let go and have fun with.
Audio Commentary by Director Stephan Elliott