The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
MGM // R // $19.98 // June 5, 2007
Review by David Johnson | posted July 9, 2007
Highly Recommended
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Writer-Director Stephan Elliott had a certain fondness for musicals. Because no one was making great musicals at the time, he saw the need and decided to create one centered around his image of the modern musical, the drag queens and their lip-syncing acts. A fateful feather blowing down the street during his visit to Australia's gay Mardi Gras gave him the inspiration to make a film which would combine the contrasting elements of drag queens and the Outback. So in 1994, a small Austrailian picture about two drag queens, a transexual, and a bus was born and the film instantly connected with audiences in its homeland and the US. Though Terrence Stamp was already a headliner previously playing tough guy roles, Priscilla made bigger stars of Hugo Weaving who later had roles in "Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" and Guy Pearce who starred in "Momento." The movie's success also spawned the similar but inferior drag comedy "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar." The outrageous, color-rich costumes deservedly earned the film an Oscar for best costume design in the same year.

The Movie:
Drag performer Tick (Hugo Weaving) receives a call from his estranged wife who needs him to perform his act at her casino in Northern Australia. He enlists an older,transexual friend, Bernadette nicknamed Bernice (Terence Stamp) who is semi-grieving over his dead much younger male lover. To Bernice's dismay, Tick's young, drag partner, Adam (Guy Pearce) is along for the ride and he takes particular pleasure in taunting Bernadette often calling her by her birth name, Ralph. To cross the Outback, Adam fabricates a hilarious straight converting story to his mother that persuades her to finance a beat-up bus he christens "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" that will take them from Syndey to Alice Springs. As they travel the harsh desert of the Outback, their bus breaks down bringing them in contact with Aborigines and odd locals who don't always welcome the fully costumed drag trio with open arms or simply don't know what to make of them. On their emotional journey, Tick ponders what role he will have in the life of the son he hasn't seen since birth, Bernadette considers the possibility of a new relationship, and Adam confronts homophobia.

Elliot wisely decided not to make a mockery of the three main characters though it wouldn't have been difficult with the heavy makeup, elaborate costumes, and high heels. What we see instead are real people who have the same foibles and insecurities we all have as well as the strength to persevere and triumph in a world that doesn't fully understand them nor is willing to always accept them. Those are themes by which many minority groups including the gay community can relate. Ultimately, they find their own place and their own happiness.

Though there may be some underlying serious overtones, Priscilla is foremost a hilarious comedy with its quick and witty dialogue, plentiful sightgags, and clashes with the local townspeople. Stamp playing Bernice is great in his deadpan delivery of one-liners. At one point, he calls Pearce's Adam a "cock in a frock on a rock." Pearce plays the immature and flamboyant Adam to the hilt and manages to steal the scenes in which he appears. The mere sight of Weaving, Stamp, and Pearce in drag is enough to elicit a good chuckle and the costume designers managed to improve on each costume with something more outrageous than the one before. Pearce wears many of the most imaginative costumes sitting on top of the moving Priscilla. In the Outback, they resemble space creatures dancing and lip-syncing to the disco anthem "I Will Survive." It would also be impossible to watch this movie and forget their encounter with an Asian mail-order bride who has a special talent with ping pong balls. The marriage of Austrailia's wildlife, outlandish costumes, and hilarity culminate in the wild drag showstopper performance of dance hit, "Finally."


Priscilla is presented in Widescreen. The transfer is excellent. Colors couldn't be more important in a film such as this. The kaleidoscope of colors from the costumes pop against the neutrals of the desert, the towns, and people they encounter on their trip. The image is sharp and clear.

5.1 DTS and Dolby Surround are offered along with French and English 2.0 audio tracks.

The latest "Extra Frills" edition of Priscilla has an audio commentary by Elliot, a "Birth of a Queen" Featurette, Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes, Tidbits from the Set, The Bus from Bloopervile Outtakes, Frocks, Frills and Fotos Still Gallery, and theatrical trailers.

In his commentary, Elliot gives the origins of the movie and his choice for the actors reiterating some of the comments he makes in the "Birth of a Queen Feauturette" below.

The "Birth of a Queen Featurette" present Elliot's narrating his development as a director from his love of musicals, the idea for Priscilla, the financing of the movie, the choices of the actors and how they transformed into drag queens, the costumes and music, and the impact the movie's had. He also reveals how the award-winning costumes were made using materials purchased for a discount at K-Mart. Elliot further elaborates on the ABBA 'turd' that Felicity carries in the movie.

The four deleted scenes are non-essential to the movie but are worth a viewing for a few more laughs. In one funny scene, Bernice explains how her lover, Trumpet, gets his nickname. Another deleted scene shows how Adam can always bring unwanted attention to the group. A power outage can be painful when shaving your armpits in "outage before dinner." The last scene is an extended scene of Bernadette comforting Adam.

The "Tidbits from the Set" screen has the images of Tick and Adam in drag. Upon clicking a highlighted jewelry piece, short snippets taken when the film was made with the director and cast comes on.

The "Bus from Blooperville" simply showcases outtakes, line flubbing, and behind the scene shots from the film. Also non-essential but nice to have and watch.

Final Thoughts:
Here's the recipe for a good movie. First, start with a few drag queens. Then throw in a lot of laughter, add some great singing (not their own) and plenty of disco music, a dash of Abba, out-of-this world costumes, and 6 inch platform shoes packaged in a DVD full of extras and you've got a evening's worth of entertainment. I haven't seen this movie in years and I've enjoyed it as much as I did the first time I saw it.

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