Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The

Reviewed By Mrs. Norman Maine
Posted 10/27/02 10:53:37

"Absolutely fabulous adult comedy"
5 stars (Awesome)

Stephan Elliot, the Australian writer/director, hit one out of the ballpark with this raucous celebration of the Australian gay/transgender community. Three drag queens from Sydney go on the road to the outback and neither they, nor the outback will ever be quite the same.


Fajer and Hellmann, my lawyers, have put me in touch with a Mr. Vito Carducci of Passaic, New Jersey. Mr. Carducci, whom I understand runs some sort of family business, is very excited at the prospect of a new Vicki Lester line of popular priced ready to wear apparel. He needs some time to talk to other members of his family, but Mr. Fajer thinks contracts could be signed and production started as early as next week. The first of the new VickiWear ensembles should be available to buyers for Target, K-Mart and other fine apparel stores by the end of next month. All I need to do is submit a few concept sketches. Bob Mackie and I have already come up with evening wear based on the Masquerade costumes from The Phantom of the Opera and a country denim line inspired by Tobacco Road . Fajer and Hellmann are also negotiating with the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization over rights to those shows. We want to start with The Sound of Music for which I envision stunning black and white lame nuns' habits and dirndls and lederhosen in iridescent satins. They’d be perfect for back to school.

Norman is set to film his scenes in Troma films new adaptation of The School for Scandal after the long weekend. They have also contacted me about a leading role in a new musical sequel to The Little Foxes in which Regina (whom I would play) becomes a Merry Widow, moves to Chicago and uses her money to purchase a toxic waste dump. I have told them I will have to see some more pages before committing. I'm also a little unsure about Chicago location shooting. The last time I was there, playing the Balladeer in the musical adaptation of The Jungle , I was somewhat deaf for several weeks after shooting my scenes on the Board of Trade floor while the market was in session.

As high fashion has been much on my mind, I decided to view a film with a keen sense of haut couture and so I poked through the video library until I came across The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert , an Australian comedy from 1994 which won one of the most deserved Oscars for costume design, ever. Lizzy Gardiner, who dreamed up and created the incredible and unique outfits for the film along with her partner Tim Chappel, showed up at the ceremony in a dress constructed out of American Express gold cards, nearly upstaging herself.

Priscilla is the story of Anthony Belrose (Hugo Weaving), a drag performer in Sydney nightclubs under the name Mitzi Del Bra. One day, he gets a phone call from an old friend and lands a gig at a large casino/nightclub in Alice Springs. For those of you unfamiliar with Australian geography, this is roughly equivalent to a New York entertainer having to make their way to Denver. He recruits fellow performers Adam Whitely (Guy Pearce), aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow and Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp) a postoperative transsexual who recently lost her lover. Rather than fly, they decide to drive to their destination. Adam produces a bus, which he immediately dubs 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert', and, in the tradition of all good road movies, our intrepid heroes are off. Of course, the trip does not go exactly as planned with off road detours involving groups of Aborigines, a small town mechanic (Bill Hunter) with a rather special mail order bride, and a bunch of drunken miners, to name but a few.

Throughout the trip, with their bus loaded with fabric, wigs, and loads of marabou, the guys appear in wilder and wilder drag outfits, much to the consternation of the residents of the outback with whom they come in contact. Highlights include a dress made of sandals; a silver lame sheath with an incredible tail, Crayola colored Gumby pantsuits, and 18th century dresses that convert into the Sydney Opera House. By the time our heroes stand, as queens, on the edge of Kings Canyon, there's nothing to do but giggle with shear delight at each new eye popping ensemble. VickiWear is looking for inspiration to the Broadway stage but I may have to make an exception and come up with a Priscilla line for that special night out.

The film avoids the trap of making the protagonists freaks (as often happens in movies about gay men, especially the transvestite variety). Rather, we get to know these three as fully realized humans, for whom drag is a natural expression of who they are. It's secondary to the story and the film would have worked without it (although it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun). The three central performances are all terrific, especially Terence Stamp as the world weary Bernadette. He makes wonderful moments out of little details such as the way she moves her hands, or pouts throughout a dance number. Hugo Weaving is the emotional center of the film and it is very much his journey of self discovery; as he learns to accept and love himself, for all his faults, we learn to love him too, making the ABBA finale a moment of major exultation. Guy Pearce, as the most outrageous of the three, is a bit more of a caricature, but its fun to see his range. This creature is nothing like his Ed Exley from LA Confidential .

The major fault in the movie is its occasional tendency to lapse into unnecessary lowbrow humor. Yes, it’s funny, but we really don't need the turd jokes or the ping-pong balls. The same points could have been made in a wittier manner. It's not that writer/director Stephan Elliot didn't have better jokes in him; some of his bits (such as a long distance jogger being faster than the bus) are inspired. One of the best jokes is a quick shot at the very end of the end credits so don't turn the film off too soon.

Elliot has yet to live up to the potential he demonstrated in this film. His Australian follow-up, Welcome to Woop-Woop , was bizarre and nearly unwatchable, despite a Rodgers and Hammerstein fetish score. His Hollywood debut, Eye of the Beholder with Ashley Judd and Ewan McGregor, was just unwatchable and a complete waste of his stars' talents. Even if he gives us nothing else of value, we will always have Priscilla and her travelers.

Originally Written 5/26/01
Revised 10/26/02

Confetti throwing. Chandelier on head. Cake sleeping. Bus painting. Drinking contest. Drug taking. Peacock plumes. [I] I Will Survive [/I] played on diggery-do. ABBA number. Gratuitous Shelley Winters joke. Unusual kite flying.

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