The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert:

Genre, Criticism, and Reception

 

Emaleigh Doley

MED231

Australian Cinema

May 2004

 

PART I - FILM INFORMATION:

 

Plot Synopsis:

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is an Australian comedy about two drag queens and a transsexual who travel into the heart of the Australian outback to perform a cabaret show at an Alice Springs hotel.  The film stars three leading men in out-of-character roles.  Manly Terence Stamp, sexy British star from the 1960s, plays transsexual Bernadette.  Muscle-man Guy Peace plays the outrageously catty Felicia, also known as Adam sans the drag costume, and Hugo Weaving plays the sensible Tick/Mitzi.  The three characters find themselves in many hilarious situations, as well as a few serious ones, on their road-trip into the desert.

 

Lead Actors:

Terence Stamp as Bernadette

Stamp is a well-known British actor from the 1960s.  He received an Academy Award nomination for his role in the 1962 film Billy Budd.  He is also known for his role as General Zod, the villain in Superman I and II, and also for the acclaimed film, The Limey, which was released in 1999.

 

Hugo Weaving as Tick/Mitzi

Weaving was born in Nigeria and immigrated to Australia in the 1970s.  He has won AFI awards for the Australian films, Proof (1991) and The Interview (1998), and has also received a lot of other critical acclaim for his performances.  Weaving has become an international star more recently.  He played Agent Smith in the US blockbuster The Matrix (1999) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), directed by the Wachowski Brothers.  Weaving also starred as Elrond, the lord of the elves in Peter Jackson's, Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003).  Weaving has also played in Stephan Elliot's 1993 film, Frauds.

 

Guy Pearce as Adam/Felicia

Pearce was born in England and immigrated to Australia, where he currently resides in Melbourne.  He got his start in show business on the Aussie soap opera, Neighbors which he appeared on regularly from 1986 until 1990.  In 1997, he played one of the detectives in the much heralded film L.A. Confidential.  Pearce also received critical acclaim for his role as Leonard Shelby in Memento (2000).

 

Supporting Actors:

Bill Hunter as Bob

Sarah Chadwick as Marion

Mark Holmes as Benjamin

 

Production Credits:

Scriptwriter and Director - Stephan Elliot

Elliot has a rather small filmography.  He wrote the screenplay for 1999's successful film, Eye of the Beholder.  Elliot has also written and directed the Australian productions, Welcome to Whoop Woop (1997) and Frauds (1993).  In the 1992, he co-wrote the script for The Resting Place, a made-for-television movie.  Also, Elliot co-wrote the screenplay for Venetian Wedding, which is currently being filmed and will be released in 2004.

 

Producers - Al Clark and Michael Hamlyn

Executive Producer - Rebel Penfold-Russel

Associate Producer - Sue Seeary

Director of Photography - Brian J. Breheny

Production Designer - Owen Paterson

Costume Designers - Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel

Choreographer - Mark White

Editor - Sue Blainey

Composer - Guy Gross

Sound Supervisor and Mixer - Phil Judd

Additional Sound Design - Guntis Sics

Sound Editors - Tim Colvin, Angus Robertson, Steve Burgess, Gerry Long

Production Company - Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited, PolyGram Filmproduction, New South Wales Film and Television Office

 

Specifications:

Classification - comedy

Run Time - 99 minutes

Rating - M

Filmed - 13 September to 28 October 1993

Country - Australia

Locations - Sydney, Broken Hill (New South Wales), Kings Canyon, Alice Springs (Northern Territory)

Australian Distributor - Roadshow

 

Release Dates:

United States of America - 10 August 1994

Australia - 8 September 1994

United Kingdom - 14 October 1994

Denmark & Finland - 18 November 1994

France - 4 January 1995

 

Box Office Figures:

Australia - Opening $1,253,624 AUD, Gross $16,459,245 AUD

United States of America - $11,059,700 (USA)

United Kingdom - ?823,293

 

Awards & Nominations:

Academy Awards, USA - Won Oscar for Best Costume Design, Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, 1995.

 

Australian Film Institute - Won AFI for Best Achievement in Costume Design (Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel) and Best Achievement in Production Design (Owen Paterson), 1994.  Nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography (Brian J. Breheny), Best Actor in a Lead Role (Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving), Best Director (Stephan Elliot), Best Film (Al Clark, Michael Hamlyn, Rebel Russel), Best Original Music Score (Guy Gross), Best Original Screenplay (Stephan Elliot).

 

GLADD Media Awards [The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] - Won for Outstanding Film, 1995.

 

Golden Globes, USA - Nominated for Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy/Musical (Terence Stamp).

 

Seattle International Film Festival - Won Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor (Terence Stamp) and Best Film

 

Writers Guild of America, USA - Nominated for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Stephan Elliot)

 

Links:

Film Databases

 

International Movie Database - A comprehensive online film database that I used to gather the statistical information for my project.  <http://www.imdb.com/>http://www.imdb.com

 

PopcornQ Movies - A comprehensive online database of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer-themed movies.  <http://www.planetout.com/pno/popcornq/>http://www.planetout.com/pno/popcornq/

 

Online Reviews of "Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"

 

The Advocate, review by Lawrence Frascella.

<http://www.advocate.com/html/video/0599_priscilla.asp>http://www.advocate.com/html/video/0599_priscilla.asp.

 

The Chicago Sun-Times, review by Roger Ebert.

<http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1994/08/937316.html>http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1994/08/937316.html

 

Movie Reviews UK, review by Damian Cannon.

<http://www.film.u-net.com/Movies/Reviews/Priscilla_Desert.html>http://www.film.u-net.com/Movies/Reviews/Priscilla_Desert.html

 

The Washington Post, review by Desson Howe.

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/theadventuresofpriscillarhowe_a0b37f.htm>http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/theadventuresofpriscillarhowe_a0b37f.htm

 

The Washington Post, review by Rita Kempley.

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/theadventuresofpriscillarkempley_a0b37e.htm>http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/theadventuresofpriscillarkempley_a0b37e.htm

 

Books About Queer Cinema & Australian Cinema:

Australian Film 1978-1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features.  Compiled and edited by Scott Murray.  Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1995.

 

The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film.  Edited by Claire Jackson and Peter Tapp.  St. Kilda, Victoria: Australian Catalogue Company Ltd., 1997.

 

Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video.  Edited by Raymond Murray.  Philadelphia: TLA Publications, 1994.

 

Journal Articles:

Cinema Papers.  Interview with Stephan Elliot by Jan Epstein.  Issue 101, October 1994, pp. 4-10, 86.  

 

Cinema Papers.  Interview with Terence Stamp by Jan Epstein.  Issue 101, October 1994, pp. 11.

 

Cinema Papers.  Film review by David Vallence and Monica Zetlin.  Issue 101, October 1994, pp. 62-63.  

 

Media International Australia.  "The Adventures of Priscilla in OZ" by Pamela Robertson.  Issue 78: Queer Media, November 1995, pp. 33-38.

 

Metro Magazine.  "Not Necessarily The Sum of Us: Australia's not-so-Queer Cinema" by Chris Berry.  Volume 101, 1995, pp. 12-16.

 

My Research & Priscilla's Online Presence:

The IMDB is always a good place to start when researching films.  The database can tell you almost everything you need to know about a film, including production details, box office information, and links to reviews.  Much of the basic information I needed was found on IMDB.  However, other than the information I gathered from IMDB, I found it pretty difficult to find information elsewhere online about Priscilla, with the exception of more film reviews and film merchandise.  Perhaps this is because the film was produced ten years ago, and much of its online representation has disappeared or become outdated.

 

The rest of my research took place in the Murdoch University library.  First, I found some books about Australian cinema to see what was said about Priscilla.  Secondly, I looked for books solely about gay and lesbian films.  I found two books that were useful, The Bent Lens and Images in the Dark.  There were many other books in the library about gay and lesbian films and Australian films, but the majority of them were checked out.  Third, I looked in Murdoch's selection of film and media journals for reviews and articles about Priscilla.  In my bibliography section, I chose to highlight the most useful and informative articles and reviews about the film.

 

Why I chose this film:

I chose Priscilla for my critical film review because I have heard so much about the film throughout the years, yet had never seen it.  In America, Priscilla was huge, particularly in the gay and lesbian scene.  I've even seen clips of Hugo Weaving's now infamous performance of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" in documentaries about gay and lesbian cinema.  I decided that since I'm in Australia for a semester, it's about time that I watch this great film.

 

I really enjoyed Priscilla, and found myself laughing at the queens' hysterics throughout. Of course, it has its flaws, and we may not care too much about the characters after the credits have rolled, but while the film was going, it was fun.  As Terence Stamp put it in an interview in the Cinema Papers, "What I admire about drag queens is they are basically ordinary guys and, in that moment when they get up and perform, they are stars" (Epstein 11).  So, if you want a break, watch Priscilla.  It's a winner, bad jokes and all.

 

PART II - CRITICAL REVIEW:

 

            The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is the 1994 breakthrough Australian comedy written and directed by Stephan Elliot.  The film chronicles an outrageous road-trip into the outback, as two drag queens and a transsexual travel to a remote Alice Springs hotel to perform a drag show in a lavender bus named Priscilla.  Backed by a fabulous dance-hall soundtrack, and three leading actors in shockingly out-of-character roles, Priscilla became an international hit.  British star Terence Stamp plays Bernadette, a grieving, aging transsexual who has just lost her life partner.  Heartthrob Guy Peace plays Adam/Felicia, a catty, trash-talking bitch, and Australian favorite, Hugo Weaving, plays the sensible Tick/Mitzi.  Along their journey through the desert, the three bold personalities meet a variety of interesting characters and find themselves entangled in many hilarious situations.

            One of the reasons Priscilla was so successful is because of its leading cast.  Director Elliot wanted to cast against type.  In an interview with the Cinema Papers, Elliot explained his method for casting.  "What do we have here?  An aging gay man/transsexual.  Let's pick the best-known older heterosexual icon I can think of.  That's where Terence Stamp came in" (Epstein 8).  Stamp was a British star from the 1960s.  In the 1980s, he was voted the most beautiful man six times.  His role as Bernadette seemed so out of character, yet he pulled it off brilliantly and received much recognition for his brave portrayal.  Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving are big names in the Australian cinema industry.  Casting them as lead roles guaranteed the films box office success in Australia.

            In terms of genre, Priscilla is in large part a comedy.  Elliot's witty dialogue and banter earned him many nominations for Best Original Screenplay.  The film is full of bad jokes and humorous moments.  One of the funniest exchanges occurs when Adam, Bernadette, and Tick are discussing their motives for going to Alice Springs.  Adam declares, "Ever since I was a lad, I've had this dream... To travel to the center of Australia, climb Kings Canyon - as a Queen, in a full length gordiay sequin, heels, and a tiara" to which Bernadette replies, "That's just what this country needs - a cock, in a frock, on a rock" (The Adventures).

            While the film is in large part a comedy, Priscilla also encompasses aspects of other film genres.  During my research, I found that many reviewers listed the film not just as a comedy, but also as a musical, a road-movie, a drama, and a camp or gay themed movie.  However, writer and director Stephan Elliot has argued publicly over his intentions with Priscilla.  In an interview with Jan Epstein in the film journal, Cinema Papers, Elliot adamantly insisted that his film was nothing but a musical.

All I wanted to do was make a big, delightful, colorful musical.  The driving motivation from day one was to find a way of bringing the musical back to life, to find an excuse for audiences to accept people bursting into song (Epstein 6).

 

Music, song, and dance are the only essential traits of the musical, and while the film employs many of these traits, it does not quite meet the criteria of the genre.  The problem with Priscilla is that the characters are not actually singing, but lip-synching the words to popular songs.  Or, as Adam puts it in the film, "We dress up in women's clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other peoples songs" (The Adventures).  Furthermore, the characters do not just burst into song for any given reason.  They are drag queens, and part of being a drag queen is performance, primarily singing and dancing.  Bursting into song is a part of the gig of a queen.

            In many ways, Priscilla is a road-movie.  "The road movie reflects a cultural psychosis that not only is tomorrow another day, but the road is the passage to which a new beginning is possible, free from the bonds of the past" (North).  For one reason or another, two of the three lead characters have set out to escape the world in which they were living.  Both Tick and Bernadette seem to be fed up with the daily grind of the city.  In Sydney, the queens performed in local nightclubs for a living, which seemed to be a tough gig considering Tick also moonlights, selling a line of woman's beauty products called "Wo-man."  For them, the road offers an easy way out.  The films soundtrack even hints at the pressing need to start anew, in the lyrics from the Village People's Go West:

 

Together we will go our way, together we will leave some day.

Together your hand in my hand, together we will make the plans.

Together we will fly so high, together tell our friends goodbye.

Together we wills tart life new, together this is what we'll do.

 

Go west, life is peaceful there.

Go west, lots of open air.

Go west, to begin life new

Go west, this is what we'll do.

Go west, sun in winter time.

Go west, we will do just fine.

Go west, where the skies are blue.

Go west, this and more we'll do (The Village People).

 

In road-movies, the characters often find themselves learning from their journey and even growing stronger by the end.  David Vallance and Monica Zetlin in a review in the Cinema Papers, wrote that,

The film harks back to the good ol' boy tradition of loading up the car with booze and heading down the blacktop with your mates...  It captures nicely the freedom and tension that life on the road can bring, especially when characters with different attitudes and conflicting ideas are brought together (Vallance and Zetlin 62).

 

Bernadette, Tick, and Adam all find themselves in many hilarious situations, as well as a few serious ones, on their road-trip into the desert.  As the film progresses, it is revealed that Tick has some life changing business waiting for him in Alice Springs.  Before his drag days began, he was married and had a son, Benjamin.  Throughout the journey, he appears to be anxious and insecure about his future.  He questions whether his son will accept him, a gay drag-queen, as a father.  Tick's story-line offers a sentimental and serious slant to the comedy, as does Bernadette's character.  Stamp's portrayal of Bernadette is surprisingly sensitive, once you can get past such a manly man dawning the appearance and feminine characteristics of a woman.  For Bernadette, taking to the road was an easy escape from her grief.  The road is something to do, something to keep her mind off of the pain of having recently lost a loved one.  Both Tick and Bernadette appear to be more dimensional characters than Adam.  The storylines involving them are heavier and developed further.

            Priscilla also has its dramatic moments.  In one town, the bus is vandalized with the words, "AIDS FUCKERS GO HOME" painted in giant red letters.  The incident obviously has an impact on Tick, Adam, and Bernadette.  In response to the vandalism, Tick says in conversation with Bernadette, "It's funny you know, no matter how tough I think I'm getting, it still hurts" (The Adventures).  Later on in the film, they brake down in the middle of the nowhere, and Adam paints the entire bus lavender, covering the hateful words.  Also, In a small mining town deep in the outback, Adam has a run-in with a gang of drunken rednecks.  Even though Bob, their new traveling companion, advised the queens to stay in the hotel, Adam - who had been drinking and taking prescription pills - decides to dress up in full drag and have a look around for himself.  He went to the local bar, where Bob was visiting some old friends.  Bob pretends that he doesn't know him, and Adam proceeds to get into a verbal argument with some of the men.  It quickly turns ugly and Adam is attacked.  Luckily Bob and Bernadette are able to break-up the mob.  In one of the films most poignant and emotional scenes, Bernadette coolly gives a sobbing and bruised Adam some heartfelt advice.  "Don't Let it drag you down," she says, "Let it toughen you up.  I can only fight because I've learned to.  Being a man one day and a woman the next isn't an easy thing to do" (The Adventures).  Other more dramatic plot-lines include Tick's predicament with his wife and son and the possible relationship between Bernadette and Bob.  These are not enough to make the film a drama, rather it just includes elements of that genre.  The serious situations in the film are fleeting and Elliot does not dwell on them for to long, and neither do his characters.

            Many critics and reviewers have labeled Priscilla as a camp-comedy or gay movie.  The film touches on many issues that face queer people.  One issue is whether or not their family will accept them.   In one scene, Bernadette reveals to Bob that his parents never spoke to him again after he had the "job," the operation that has allowed him to become a woman physically.  This is a horrible consequence of living ones life openly and proudly that has happened to many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.  Tick also worries about whether or not his son Benjamin will accept him as a father.  In Tick's first scenes with Benjamin, he dresses stereotypically male in an effort to conceal his true life.  During their first performance at the hotel, Tick faints when he sees Benjamin cheering for him in the audience.  Tick did not want his son to see him dressed like a woman, and his former wife, Marion, had assured him that he would not be present.  Marion, coincidently, is also gay.  The viewer discovers this in a conversation between Benjamin and Adam.  He reveals that his mom used to have a girlfriend and asks Adam if his dad has a boyfriend.  Benjamin knows what Tick is, a gay man, and doesn't seem to care.  In a touching scene between father and son, Tick tearfully says to Benjamin, "You know what I am, don't you?"  Benjamin replies cheerfully, "Mum says you're the best in the business" (The Adventures).  Another queer issue highlighted in the film involves identity and perceptions of identity.  Bernadette despises being referred to as Ralph, her former name, and even physically assaults Adam after his repeated taunts.  Bernadette feels like a woman, and lives her life as one.  People like Bernadette face discrimination from nearly everyone who cannot understand why a biological man would want to become a woman.  Priscilla also raises many other prominent issues that face queer people, including discrimination and intolerance.

            The labeling of Priscilla as a camp-movie or gay movie has sparked much discussion by critics and even Stephan Elliot.  When asked what he thought about Priscilla being called a camp-movie, Elliot said:

I try my absolute damnedest to steer people away from that.  But, at the end of the day, it is a camp movie, about camp characters.  The reason it's going to get called a gay movie is because the gay scene is completely encompassing it.  It's like their baby...  All the gay trades are saying, "This is going to be the big one that will bring gay lifestyles into a mainstream" (Epstein 7).

 

One of the reasons for the reaction from the gay community is that there simply aren't a lot of gay themed movies out there.  That is why films that are even remotely gay--such as have gay characters, situations, or even mere suggestions of gay romances--are immediately adopted by gay and lesbian communities worldwide as gay movies.

            While the United States has produced a large number of gay and lesbian themed films, Australia has not.  Films like Philadelphia, Basic Instinct, In & Out, and Boys Don't Cry, to name a few, have been popular at the box office and critically acclaimed.  However, "representation of queer characters in Australian films have, until relatively recently, been almost entirely and quite literally 'in the closet' (Verhoeven 25).  Priscilla was and is a very important film for Australia for these reasons.  It "raised gay culture to moderately-new heights of respectability in the suburbs of heterosexual Australia" (Breen 376).  Furthermore, the film "stands as a milestone of Australia's entry into the international gay film market - its gayness and Australianness are equally important" (Robertson 33).  It is interesting to note that the Australian press did not immediately classify the film as a gay movie.  They hailed the film as being very Australian.  "Most reviews and commentaries in the Australian press...ignore the specific content of the film...in favor of its characterization as an Australian film" (Robertson 33).  In the same interview in the Cinema Papers, Elliot, when asked if he believed Australia was ready for Priscilla (it was released in America first and also premiered at the renown Cannes film festival) replied, "Yes, because in this country it won't be seen as a gay flagship...  Audiences will embrace it a just another successful Australian film, whereas in America and across Europe it will be this flagship" (Epstein 7).

            Writer Chris Berry, in his article in Metro Magazine, "Not Necessarily The Sum of Us: Australia's not-so-Queer Cinema," criticized Australian cinema further for not being queer-inclusive.  He mainly critiqued Priscilla and the popular The Sum of Us.  Berry wrote that,

"We Are Everywhere" has been a queer slogan for over two decades now.  But for much of that time lesbians, gays and transgenders' have been conspicuously absent from the movies, especially mainstream Australian movies.  Indeed, it is difficult to think of full-length Australian features that have had queer leading characters prior to Priscilla and The Sum of Us (Berry 12).

 

Berry asserts that Priscilla and The Sum of Us were blockbusters only because they glossed over many of the hard issues facing queer people throughout their lives.  Berry went on to say, „Priscilla and The Sum of Us avoid difficult issues so audiences may congratulate themselves on their tolerance without having to try all that hard" (Berry 15).  Priscilla has faced criticism similar to Berry's from many reviewers.  In Priscilla's entry into Australian Film, a directory of important Australian films, writer Marcus Breen reiterated Berry's arguments, but with a slight twist.  Breen wrote that,

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" generously papers over the difficulties of homosexuality.  It does this by literally dressing up the complexity of sexual politics in the 1990s, while boldly presenting the transvestite/trans-sexual life as normal (Breen 376).

 

I think this was a really interesting way to word the conflict over politics within the film.  Elliot does not completely leave out the "difficulties of homosexuality."  He touches on intolerance and discrimination through various forms of homophobia that the characters encounter on their journey.  However, he does not dwell on these circumstances and neither do Tick, Adam, or Bernadette.  The problems they face in the film are frequent occurrences in the life of gay men, drag queens, and transsexuals.  While some of the films more serious and dramatic moments of intolerance and discrimination may seem exaggerated and unrealistic, or in terms of acceptance, picture perfect, they are still representative of real life issues.   Even though the instances are not explored in depth, their mere inclusion is enough to get the message across to viewers.  Despite this, Elliot even faced criticism from gay groups, and at the San Francisco Film Festival, he was asked why he didn't tackle more gay issues in the film (Epstein 8).  Elliot replied,

If you want to make that sort of movie, you make it.  I'm making a musical here--a very funny, tasteless, brash, loud, in-ya-face film.  I didn't want to get into that.  I think it would have been irresponsible for me to ignore it, but I didn't.  AIDS is there (Epstein 8).

 

According to Elliot, Priscilla isn't about messages, it's about fun.  He has reaffirmed this stance in countless interviews.  Also, if Elliot's intentions were to simply make a musical, then the unrealistic aspects of the film work, considering musicals are often generally unrealistic in their portrayal of so-called real life.  Furthermore, while I find some of the criticism and arguments about Priscilla to be valid, I think critics and people in general need to take a step back and realize that not every film about gay people needs to be an all encompassing political statement.

            Priscilla has also been criticized for being overtly misogynistic and racist.  The film plays on many stereotypes for comedic effect.  Tick, Adam, and Bernadette are involved in three hilarious scenes which have also been characterized as being offensive, underneath all the jokes and laughter.  The film includes three extremely stereotypical characters (aside from the drag queens): the butch woman at the Palace Hotel bar, a Filipino stripper (Bob's mail-order-bride), and a small group of Aboriginal people.  At the Palace Hotel, the queens are approached by an older butch woman, played by June Marie Bennet, wearing a mans undershirt who tells them coldly,  "We've got nothing here for people like you."  Bernadette, very calmly retorts, "Listen here you mullet, why don't you just light your tampon and blow your box a part because its the only bang you're ever gonna get sweetheart" (The Adventures).  After a brief silence, the bar erupts in laughter.  By insulting this woman publicly, the queens have gained acceptance and are able to "bond homosocially with the male redneck population" (Robertson 34).

            Bob's Filipino wife Cynthia, played by Julia Cortez, is the stereotypical mail-order bride.  In a flashback, it is revealed that on Bob's trip to the Philippines, she got him drunk, seduced him, and married him in order to get a free-ticket to Sydney.  In one of the films most bizarre scenes, Cynthia, who has an alcohol problem and seems a tad crazy, gets quite drunk and comes to the bar, where she interrupts the drag queens performance to do a striptease of her own.  Her show is much more popular with the locals, as she shoots ping pong balls out of her G-string.  "Cynthia, castrating, foreign, manipulative, and perversely sexualized, is thus characterized as a sort of madwoman" (Robertson 35).

            The third scene in the film which has been criticized as being racist is the queens' encounter with a group of Aboriginals in the outback.  "The film's Aboriginal characters, like the butch woman and the castrating Filipina, play stock stereotypical roles as Aboriginals" (Robertson 36).  While their bus is broken down, Alan, an aboriginal man stumbles upon the queens while they are rehearsing.  He takes them to his camp, where the troupe perform Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," in full garb.  They even dress-up Alan.  The exchange between the queens and the Aborigines also serves as one of the films finest comical moments.  In response to criticisms about the film being racist, misogynistic, and unrealistic in its representations, Elliot has retorted,

"It's racist.  It's sexist.  It portrays queers in a bad light", and on and on.  Politics!  ...The world is drowning in politics.  We are not allowed to laugh any more at bad jokes, or practical humor.  That really annoys me, particularly with gay issues.  Any film that's gay themed is drowning in its own politics (Epstein 6)

 

While many of the criticisms present valid arguments, in the end, Priscilla is just another comedy, and this isn't the first time a film has used stereotypes to fuel laughter.

            In spite of some negative criticism and reviews, Priscilla triumphed and did extremely well at the box-office.  In the United States, where it was first released, Priscilla grossed over $11 million.  In Australia, the film opened with more than one million in its first week, and has grossed over $16 million total.  Audience reception to the film has varied depending on the makeup of the crowd.  When Priscilla was screened at the San Francisco Film Festival, "people pulled the seats up and just went crazy."  Elliot said that he expected the same reaction when the film was shown as the midnight screening at Cannes, but the feeling from the crowd was very different.  "The film worked on a different level - the emotional.  In San Fran, they laughed at all the jokes and had a fabulous time.  Here, you could hear the moments when the drama was happening" (Epstein 6).  Nonetheless, Priscilla received a standing ovation at the end of the screening.            

            Priscilla has received its share of recognition from film societies and award groups.  The film received eleven nominations from the Australian Film Institute, and Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel snagged AFI's for Best Achievement in Costume Design, as well as Owen Paterson for Best Achievement in Production Design.  In America, Priscilla also found much acclaim.  Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel won the prestigious Oscar for Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards in 1995, a huge feat for Australian filmmakers.  At the Seattle International Film Festival, Terence Stamp won the Golden Space Needle award for Best Actor, and the film also won for Best Film (IMDB).  Priscilla was also recognized by the gay and lesbian media.  The film won for Outstanding Film at the GLAAD Media Awards (The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).  In 2000, GLAAD announced a list of the Absolute Best Lesbian and Gay Films of the 20th Century, which was voted on by more than 23,000 people from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert topped the list at number one, which is a great feat for an Australian film (GLAAD). 

            One of the reasons Priscilla was such a successful movie is because it was simply a spectacular film to see cinematically.  For the most part, Priscilla is held together by its cinematic elements.  The plot often relies on the hysterical images and outlandish performances to keep it going.  Elliot shows many examples of this throughout the film.  One of the funniest occurs in the beginning of their journey when the queens stop to rest at the Palace Hotel.  Elliot shows a shot of their bus, and then a close-up of a pair of go-go boots stepping off of the bus, set to Alicia Bridge's disco anthem, "I Love the Nightlife." The camera then shows the six-foot-tall drag queens (and one transsexual) walking down the crowded sidewalk and the various reactions from townspeople.  This simple interaction is enough to make you laugh.

            Priscilla is a very Australian film in that the strongest elements of Australia are present in the films representation of the landscape.  There are countless shots of the sunset, blazing skylines, and ever expanding horizons.  There are even close-ups of native wildlife, such as lizards, kangaroos, and cockatoos.  The film also shows road-signs of kangaroo crossings, particularly at the moment when the characters take a short-cut through the outback, off of the highway and onto desolate back roads.  The shots of the lavender bus riding down empty red-dirt roads, with Adam perched atop the bus, dressed in a flowing costume and lip-synching to opera music are both pleasing to the eye and comical in representation.  Priscilla cleverly plays off of the Australian landscape.  "The film relies on the spectacular and sometimes hilarious contrast between the gorgeous artifice of drag and the stark alien landscape" (Robertson 37).  It's actually a very beautiful and well-crafted image.  Some of the most magnificently shot scenes occur deep in the outback while their bus is broken down.  The contrast of drag queens in the desert is almost fascinating.  There is a great scene of Mitzi dancing and singing "I Will Survive" to herself, a top the red mountains.  There are also some gorgeous shots of Bernadette walking through the outback, wrapped in a white linen scarf.  The camera closes in on her and then pans back, showing miles and miles of nothing.  Even the Australian Film Institute recognized Priscilla's achievements in cinematography, and nominated cinematographer Brian J. Breheny for Best Achievement in Cinematography.

All journeys come to a finish, and Priscilla ends on a high note.  At the end of the film, we see Bernadette and Tick help Adam fulfill his dream of climbing Kings Canyon in full drag and performing to an Abba tune at the top.  This particular scene represents the physical end to their journey together.  Soon after, Tick and Bernadette's storylines are tied up as well.  Tick has faced his fears of being rejected by his son, and is now prepared to head back to Sydney and explore a new life with him.  Bernadette, with an air of dignity, announces that she will stay behind in Alice Springs, and it is suggested, explore a life with Bob.  Adam, who is just at catty as he was in the beginning, is ready to head back to the city, away from the nothingness of the desert.  As the film comes to a close, we begin to fully understand what taking to the road meant for the three queens and the lessons they learned a long the way.  In an essay about road movies, Sam North wrote that, "these people who seek escape often have the courage and determination they never knew they had.  It is just that the road is there.  It is the road that enables them to find that courage" (North).

 

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Works Cited

Berry, Chris.  "Not Necessarily The Sum of Us: Australia's not-so-Queer Cinema."  Metro Magazine.  Volume 101, 1995:  pp. 12-16.

Breen, Marcus.  "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."  Australian Film 1978-1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features.  Ed. Scott Murray.  Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1995.  p. 376.

Epstein, Jan.  "Stephan Elliot."  Cinema Papers.  Issue 101, October 1994:  pp. 4-10, 86.

---.  "Terence Stamp."  Cinema Papers.  Issue 101, October 1994:  p. 11.

International Movie Database.  5 May 2004.  <http://www.imdb.com>.

"Media Releases:  GLAAD Announces 'Absolute Best' Lesbian and Gay Films of the 20th Century." 3 April 2000.  GLAAD.  5 May 2004.  <http://www.glaad.org/media/archive_detail.php?id=101&>.

North, Sam.  "Road Movies."  <http://www.hackwriters.com/roadone.htm> 5 May 2004.

Robertson, Pamela.  "The Adventures of Priscilla in OZ."  Media International Australia.  Issue 78: Queer Media, November 1995:  pp. 33-38.

The Adventures of Priscilla.  Dir. Stephan Elliot.  Perf. Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving.  Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited, 1994.

The Village People.  "Go West."  1979.  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.  PolyGram Records, 1994.

Vallance, David and Monica Zetlin.  "Film Reviews: The Adventures of Priscilla."  Cinema Papers.  Issue 101, October 1994:  pp. 62-63.

Verhoeven, Deb.  "The sexual terrain of the Australian feature film: Putting the Out:back into the Ocker."  The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film.  Ed. Claire Jackson and Peter Tapp.  St. Kilda, Victoria: Australian Catalogue Company Ltd., 1997.