Oct 24, 2010

[Movies] The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality, I could never really get drag culture. I guess it's a natural part of understanding one's homosexuality - trying to find role models to emulate or mimic as a guide of some sort. And I never really saw myself as someone who'd want to dress up in women's clothing and put on make-up.

For the record, I still don't, but that's not the point here.

It's only when I started to go out and explore the local "gay scene" that I started to get an inkling of what this whole cross-dressing thing was all about. The put things overly simplistically by claiming men dressed as women probably just want to be women themselves would be horribly unfair and offensive to who they are. Sure, some feel that way, but not necessarily all.

In the same way that dressing up in a costume for Halloween can be oddly liberating and exciting, so is going drag. It's partly being someone other than you are but at the same time becoming the person you truly are. That last statement probably doesn't make that much sense, but then I suppose it's something better experienced rather than explained. Not that I've really gone fully drag either, although I did semi-attempt a geisha outfit once, hehe.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is an interesting comedy-drama film about a group of drag queens venturing across the Australian outback. The movie was written and directed by Stephan Elliott and it did win an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

Anthony "Tick" Belrose (Hugo Weaving) is Mitzi Del Bra, a drag queen in Syndey, Australia who takes on a job to perform at the Lasseter's Hotel Casino being managed by his ex-wife. Given the remoteness of the location, he decides to convince fellow drag queens, the transexual Bernadette Basinger (Terence Stamp) and Adam Whitely / Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Guy Pearce) to join him in this venture. Thus the three acquire a large tour bus that they name Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for their nearly month-long engagement at Alice Springs.

Thus begins their unusual journey through rural Australia where their unique manner of style is met with mixed results. They put on a drag show for some friendly Australian Aborigines but they also get ridiculed and even assaulted in some parts. All this culminates with Priscilla breaking down in the middle of the desert until the trio is rescued by Bob (Bill Hunter), a mechanic. Beyond the antics and the witty one-liners, there's a deeper history behind Tick and his ex-wife, one that we slowly explore over the course of the film.

Priscilla Queen of the Dessert drag queen homa...Image via WikipediaGiven the different paths the actors have taken in more recent movies, it can come as quite shock to see the likes of Hugo Weaving, who was also Agent Smith in The Matrix and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings, as a sassy drag queen in very flamboyant outfits. The same could be said of Guy Pearce more recently of The Hurt Locker fame, who is the more campy and annoying drag queen in this movie. Thus it helps to forget about their current careers and just enjoy them as they are, as should really be the case with any movie when you think about it.

The pacing of the movie was a bit slow for me, but then I do generally favor more frenetic storytelling in general. That doesn't make it a bad thing about the movie - it just sets a very different and somber tone to things. I suppose this is to be expected given the bulk of the movie does take place in the desert after all, and that's not exactly the hippest and most lively place in the planet. But the non-stop banter between the drag queens does keep things going for the most part and that's always a good thing. Plus there's a good amount of ABBA music to keep things fun, and I never say no to ABBA.

But more than just drag culture, the movie really does capture the Australian flavor to things. And it's not just about the accents mind you - there are a number of terms and references that can easily get by you given how they're tailored for the country.

The movie is great given it's not really a movie about drag queens - again that would be overly simplifying things. The story is really more about their individual stories given their unique occupation and in the end you'll find that they just happen to be drag queens by profession. It doesn't necessarily define them entirely, although it does represent a good amount of who they are as well.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert may not be a belly-aching comedy, but it is a stellar film that utilizes its story elements masterfully to tell a very honest story. It gets 4 WTF artistic drag moments in the movie out of a possible 5.


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