Friday, June 21, 2019

A Very Gay Aussie Adventure

Now that homosexuality, gender fluidity and the art of drag are ubiquitous in mainstream entertainment and popular culture—witness the success of TV phenomena from RuPaul’s Drag Race to Pose— it’s hard to believe that just a short time ago, you could only find queer stories in arthouse indie films and maybe the shelves of the more adventurous Blockbuster franchises.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is a rollickingly funny yet touching gay-themed road movie. It tells the story of three Sydney drag performers as they undertake a bumpy journey of epic proportions, from their urban coastal home through the hinterlands of the desert outback. When a voice from the past sets him on a cross-country odyssey with two friends (who can’t stand each other), a lonely drag queen named Mitzi begins a vision quest of self discovery. The trio pile into a broken down bus named Priscilla loaded with sets and costumes and set off for Alice Springs via parts unknown.

Hugo Weaving as Mitzi

Hugo Weaving (beloved to sci-fi and adventure film fans through his elegantly skilled performances in V for Vendetta, The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix) is superb here, conveying complexity, humor and heart as the deeply conflicted Mitzi (aka Tick) whose surprising secret will change the course of his life.

Terence Stamp, the British-born international sex symbol of the 1960s who played opposite superstars Julie Christie (Far from the Madding Crowd) and Jane Fonda (Spirits of the Dead) nearly steals the whole film with a subtly sardonic performance as Bernadette (aka Ralph), a recently widowed transsexual. (Fans of 1980’s Superman II may or may not recognize Bernadette as the evil Zod of Krypton: “Kneel before Zod!”)

Terence Stamp as Bernadette

Bernadette’s nemesis Felicia (aka Adam) is beautifully played by Guy Pearce (LA Confidential, Mildred Pierce) in a memorable breakout performance. Pearce’s Felicia manages to be hyperactive, obnoxious, flamboyantly queeny and adorable at the same time. Stripped to the waist and showing his lean musculature in several of his non-drag scenes, Pearce also provides a generous helping of eye candy.

Along the way they meet Bob the mechanic (wonderfully played by the down-to-earth Bill Hunter) and his mail order bride (a hilarious turn by Julia Cortez), and a host of other unique characters, including two important people from Mitzi’s former life.

Guy Pearce as Felicia

A balls-out, no-holds-barred celebration of outrageousness in every respect, Priscilla boldly goes where no mainstream movie of the era could. In addition to its glitzy, over-the-top fabulous protagonists, it features wonderful supporting performances by a diverse bevy of Aussie character actors. Irreverence is the order of the day here—amid the many touching moments are countless scenes of indescribable outrageousness. (Don’t even ask me to describe the significance of three ping pong balls or the souvenir excrement of a famous rock star!)

Stunning cinematography spotlights the quirky originality of Australia in this universal story of love, connection and self-acceptance. Once you’ve seen Priscilla, you’ll really feel as if you’ve been Down Under. The Australian outback setting affords viewers a glimpse of the remote and sparsely populated inland areas off the beaten path, peopled by the indigenous tribes of Aboriginal natives and what can only be described as Aussie rednecks.

A dreamy Guy Pearce out of drag—I couldn't resist!

The eclectic and wide-ranging soundtrack spans almost every imaginable genre, from Italian opera to classic standards, ’60s pop to ’70s disco, and Abba to “Hava Nagilah,”  and includes memorably lip-synced renditions of the campy “I’ve Never Been To Me” and “I Will Survive” (accompanied by a native Aborigine didgeridoo!).

There are sober moments as well that underline the prejudice and discrimination that gay people faced in 1994 (and still do in many places), including a violent gay bashing sequence and the beloved bus vandalized with the ugly message  AIDS F***KERS GO HOME (later painted over in fabulous lavender).
No camping while driving, Hugo!

Written and directed by Stephan Elliott, with Oscar-winning costumes by Lizzy Gardner and Tim Chappel, the film was transformed into a West End musical that made it to Broadway in 2011, produced by Bette Midler.

If you love Australia and are interested in a road movie with more than a twist, climb aboard and take this unforgettable journey.

Many thanks to my friend Quiggy for inviting me to join the Blizzard of Oz blogathon party—the perfect opportunity for me to celebrate Pride Month and the splendors of Australia at the same time!


Silver Screenings said...

I've heard of this film – and have heard it's very funny – but had no idea it featured this impressive cast. And look at those great costumes!

Quiggy said...

I have been awaiting your take on this film for some time. It was worth the wait. I find the movie enjoyable, too. Will have to add it to the blogathon page later as I am at work & only have my phone here.

Caftan Woman said...

Prior to the Broadway run, "Priscilla" made its North American debut in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre (Oct. 2010 - Jan. 2011). In my mind it was just a couple of years ago, but when I checked my memory against the fact and saw it was nine years ago - well, time flies, doesn't it?

William said...

Welcome back, Chris! Can't believe there hasn't been a new Angelman post since January (or did I miss something?)

Anyway, I saw this film so long ago that I honestly don't even remember what I thought of it, so I guess it's time for a re-watch. I do remember that Terence Stamp certainly shows his versatility (and remember he played a kind of LGBT role in "Teorema," which I also have to look at again one of these days.) Of course, as you note, Stamp made the perfect Zod.

Best, Bill

angelman66 said...

Hi Silver Screenings—indeed, the script is teeming with witty repartee as well as laugh out loud physical humor, plus wonderful music cinematography and spectacular costumes and production design. I think you will enjoy!
Thanks so much for visiting!
- Chris

angelman66 said...

Quiggy!! Thank you so much for urging me to join your wonderful blogathon! I look forward to reading all the entries! This was the perfect opportunity to pull out this movie from my collection to enjoy again after several years. It is a blast!
- C

angelman66 said...

Hi Caftan Woman— thanks as always for stopping by! You are right, it’s hard to believe that 2011 is no longer “ a couple of years ago. OMG!
Would love to see the stage production someday...I think I read that the Oscar winning costume designers of the film also did the play. I bet it was something to see live!
- Chris

angelman66 said...

You’re right, Bill, this was my first post in five months...2019 has been hectic and chaotic on both the personal and professional fronts, but I have missed keeping up my beloved blog of favorite films.
Do see this again...I find new things to like about it with every viewing.
By the way, I love your new B Movie Nightmares much fun, and glad you are alternating with the excellent Great Old Movies!
Talk soon!
- C

Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Heard of this film from a friend who adores it, now have to check it out! Great to see you writing again, hope things a bit less crazy for you now. Take care xx

angelman66 said...

Hi Gill - I think you're going to love it! Thanks as always for your support!

Diary of a Movie Maniac said...

The costumes are fantastic and the cast is wonderful, especially Terence Stamp (he deserved an Oscar nomination)!

angelman66 said...

Hi Movie Maniac, agreed! Stamp's performance as Bernadette was the best of his career! Thanks for stopping by!

Poseidon3 said...

Glad to see you back in the (sequined) saddle again, Angelman!

angelman66 said...

Thanks Poseidon, for dropping by! Feels good to get back to writing about my favorite movies—it’s a joy!
- Chris


Great review of a lovely film, Chris. Indeed, you feel like you've travelled Australia with these wonderful characters after you watch the film. I just can't choose my favorite of the main trio!
Thanks for the kind comment!

angelman66 said...

Hi Le! Thanks so much for visiting! I love all three stars too and all the amazing supporting performances as well!
- Chris

Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Hi there, doing a blogathon about Marines if you's like to join, all the details here.. be great to have you!