If The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert has aged since its 1994 release it’s nothing makeup can’t cover, and God knows there’s enough makeup in this movie to make a Third World country look First World.
Not only has Priscilla stood the test of time and picked up an Oscar for its costumes, but it inspired an American imitation ( To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar ) and co-stars Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce have become big international stars; but writer-director Stephan Elliott has yet to live up to the promise he showed with this, his second feature.
In case you’ve never seen it, Priscilla combines sentiment with hilarious bitchiness in telling the story of two drag queens and a transsexual who cross Australia, from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a broken-down bus ( the Priscilla of the title, painted pink to cover up a small-town vandal’s graffiti: AIDS FUCKERS GO HOME ) .
Terence Stamp has one of his best roles as Bernadette, born Ralph, who’s every inch a lady—at least since the operation. I’d love to see her in a cage match with Felicity Huffman’s Bree from Transamerica. Tick/Mitzi ( Weaving ) represents the film’s family values with a couple of secrets he’s been keeping from his mates.
It’s Tick who gets the Alice Springs gig and invites the others along. Pearce plays Adam/Felicia, the flamboyant ( and pretty ) one, whose inability to tone it down causes the trio trouble in more conservative areas. Bill Hunter is excellent as a good ol’ boy who’s more broad-minded than most.
The drag numbers range from Charlene’s I’ve Never Been to Me to the big production, Ce Ce Peniston’s Finally, to the finale by “fucking ABBA.” A repeat viewing allows you to appreciate the film’s celebration of the beauty and mystery of rural Australia.
The new “Extra Frills” edition DVD includes about an hour’s worth of extras plus commentary by Elliott. Elliott is the main attraction of a terrific half-hour featurette, The Birth of a Queen: Directing a Drag Classic, in which he reveals the two things that pushed Stamp over the line into diva territory and how a K-Mart employee discount helped keep the fabulous costumes within the budget. He tells how the script “wrote itself” in 12 days after being inspired by a drag queen in a Pride parade and how amazed he is by the film’s enduring popularity.
“Fabulous” is such an overused word, but there’s no better one to describe The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.