The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Director: Stephan Elliott

A gloriously and self-unashamedly flamboyant movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a road movie following two drag queens and a transsexual as they traverse Australia.

Achieving a sensitive balance in moving between magnificent costumes and extrovert behaviour to quiet contemplation and serious discussion of complex issues the film explores the highs of performing in public and contrasts them with the depression, self-doubt and weariness suffered by many transgendered people.

Terence Stamp brings tremendous vitality and plausibility to the lead role of Bernadette, a drag queen who isn't sure where to go in life. His performance is matched by Hugo Weaving's portrayal of Mitzi, another drag queen, but this time with a female partner and a school-aged son.

They are accompanied by the now very famous Guy Pierce as Felicia, a pre-op transsexual. Felicia contrasts with the other two by being a very different character, and adds tension and conflict to the film.

As Roger Ebert points out in his review one of the delights of this film is that it transcends the obvious subject matter and becomes a film about a normal person - who just happens to be a drag queen. This makes the film far more accessible to a normal audience and helps create sympathy and understanding towards drag queens.

Incidentally the Priscilla of the title is an ordinary bus - decorated in an extraordinary manner.

Contents

Plot

Anthony "Tick" Belrose, a.k.a. Mitzi Del Bra (Hugo Weaving), is a Sydney-based drag queen who accepts an offer to perform at a hotel resort in Alice Springs, a remote town in central Australia. After persuading his friends and fellow performers, Ralph Waite, a.k.a. Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp), a recently bereaved transsexual woman, and Adam Whitely, a.k.a. Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce), an irritating, flamboyant and obnoxious drag queen, to join him, the three set out for Alice Springs in a large tour bus which Adam/Felicia christens "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert".

Whilst on the long journey through the Australian Outback, they meet a variety of characters, including a group of friendly Australian Aborigines whom they perform for, but also encounter the less accepting attitudes of rural Australia and are subjected to homophobic abuse and even violence (though Bernadette shows her companions how to give as good as they get to spectacular effect).

When the tour bus breaks down in the middle of the desert, this results in the trio meeting Bob (Bill Hunter), a middle-aged mechanic from a small outback town who joins them on their journey. Before they arrive at Alice Springs, Tick reveals that Marion (Sarah Chadwick), the woman who runs the resort where they will be performing, is actually his estranged wife and that they are in fact going there as a favor to her. Upon arrival, it is revealed that Tick and Marion also have an 8-year-old son, Benjamin, whom Tick has not seen for many years. It is also mentioned that Marion is a lesbian.

By the time their four-week stint at the resort is over, Tick and Adam head back to Sydney, taking Benjamin back with them so that Tick can get to know his son and Marion can have a long-earned break. However, Bernadette decides to remain at the resort for a while with Bob after the two of them become close.

Cast

   * Terence Stamp as Ralph Waite / Bernadette Bassenger
   * Hugo Weaving as Anthony "Tick" Belrose / Mitzi Del Bra
   * Guy Pearce as Adam Whitely / Felicia Jollygoodfellow
   * Bill Hunter as Bob
   * Sarah Chadwick as Marion
   * Julia Cortez as Cynthia

Interviewed on BBC London Radio on September 17, 2008 about his role as Tick in the UK stage version, Jason Donovan claimed that he was the original choice for the role, with the role of Adam intended for Michael Hutchence and Bernadette intended for Richard E. Grant.

Awards and nominations

The film won an a 1995 Oscar for Best Costume Design, and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture - Comedy or Musical.

Soundtrack

On August 23, 1994, Fontana Island released the soundtrack on CD. The tracklisting is as follows:

  1. "I've Never Been to Me" - Charlene
  2. "Go West" - Village People
  3. "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" - Paper Lace
  4. "My Baby Loves Lovin'" - White Plains
  5. "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" - Alicia Bridges
  6. "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" - Trudy Richards
  7. "I Will Survive" - Gloria Gaynor
  8. "A Fine Romance" - Lena Horne
  9. "Shake Your Groove Thing" - Peaches & Herb
 10. "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" - Patti Page
 11. "Finally" [7" Choice Mix] - Ce Ce Peniston
 12. "Take a Letter Maria" - R.B. Greaves
 13. "Mamma Mia" - ABBA
 14. "Save the Best for Last" - Vanessa Williams
 15. "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" [Real Rapino 7" Mix] - Alicia Bridges
 16. "Go West" [Original 12" Mix] - Village People
 17. "I Will Survive" [1993 Phil Kelsey Classic 12" Mix] - Gloria Gaynor
 18. "Shake Your Groove Thing" [Original 12" Mix] - Peaches & Herb
 19. "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" [Phillip Damien Extended Vox] - Alicia Bridges


Cultural impact

The film is regarded in the gay community as a camp classic, portraying Australia's outback in an idyllic way, showcasing its beauty and remoteness.[citation needed] The story also brought together the traveling troupe with an Aboriginal tribe, a powerful image of two often socially outcast peoples singing and dancing together under unlikely circumstances. The film was ranked at #7 on Logo's 50 Greatest Films. A drag queen homage to the film's costumes on Fire Island Pines.

The film also employed unusual casting of Terence Stamp, who has otherwise portrayed rather masculine characters (often villains). This film was the first large-scale venue for Pearce and Weaving, both of whom have gone on to larger film success.

In 1995, an American film, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, starring Patrick Swayze, was released, and featured a similar plot line; it is widely regarded as an "American version of Priscilla."

During the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Priscilla was part of a parade of images of Australian popular culture. A refurbished and decorated 1980 Ford Denning (resembling bus used in the movie) featuring a giant steel Stiletto heel which extended from and retracted into the roof—inspired by some of the scenes from the film—was paraded around the Olympic Stadium. The bus was also accompanied by several stiletto heels tricycle floats and drag queens donning big wigs as a tribute to the film's international success and the local Sydney gay community.

See also

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This page was originally authored by members of Susan's Place Wiki Staff.

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