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Road trip drag queen style
The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (DVD)
Advantages: Funny, touching, brilliant performances
Disadvantages: None, unless drag queens and homosexuality offend
This is a film only review.
Three drag queens from Sydney, Felicia, Mitzi and Bernadette, are invited to perform a caberet in Alice Springs. Felicia manages to get hold of a bus (nicknamed Priscilla) that will take them on their journey of several days, but unfortunately, it breaks down on a regular basis, and it isn't always easy to find someone who will help them fix it - one mechanic takes a look at Mitzi in a dress and runs a mile! However, they find help in the most surprising of places and with the most surprising of people and, most of the time, enjoy themselves. Mitzi is concerned though; he has already broken it to his friends that he has a wife, but there is another surprise in store for them. Will they manage to reach Alice Springs? And how will Mitzi cope with his secret personal life?
Although this is an Australian film, which unfortunately don't always make it to the UK, Priscilla made quite a splash when it was released in the UK in 1994. This was partly because of the subject matter, which, for its time, was considered quite outrageous, and partly because it starred Guy Pearce, at that point fairly fresh from his role in the Australian soap, Neighbours, and Terence Stamp, better known for more serious roles. Although often billed as a comedy (and it certainly does have plenty of comic moments), it also has its sensitive side in Mitzi's story, and is backed up by bucketloads of wonderful music.
If any of the three main characters can be called the main character, it has to be Mitzi, played by Hugo Weaving, simply because we delve more deeply into his past than the other characters. Mitzi is a gentle person who likes to avoid conflict if possible, but because of his profession, often comes across people who just won't let him live his own life. Weaving, an actor I'm not familiar with, although he was in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, is fantastic in the role, immediately drawing sympathy. He is probably the least comic of the characters, but that doesn't matter because of the added depth to his personality. And it is just not possible not to admire someone who is prepared to dress up in the way that he does for a role.
Terence Stamp is also fantastic as Bernadette. Bernie is the most feminine of the drag queens, choosing to make himself up as a woman even when not in drag, although it is always blatantly obvious that he is a man. He has just lost his partner and is still reeling from the death; even worse, he has to put up with Felicia, who is constantly tactless. Stamp plays the role with great class. His comic moments are perhaps the strongest, just because they are nearly always unexpected, and towards the end, he really comes into his own when his storyline takes quite a romantic turn and he handles it magnificently.
In some ways, Guy Pearce, as Felicia, is perhaps the weak link of the film, partly because he is so overly camp and partly because his character has very little in the way of depth. However, I think he just about managed to stay on the right side of camp, and was all the funnier because he really did manage to look feminine at times, albeit complete with bulging muscles. Felicia is the youngest and most care-free of the drag queens and I think that Pearce manages to portray this well, although I would have appreciated a bit more of a background story. Still, the role did Pearce no harm - he has since gone on to much bigger and better things.
There is little in the way of plot here; it is more a road trip that helps the characters, or at least two of the characters, come to terms with who they are and what they do. And there is always so much going on that it is hard to get bored regardless of the lack of plot. Having said that, although it is not a particularly long film at just over an hour and a half, it does feel longer, so perhaps a little more plot would have been an advantage. What I liked most of all though was the way that the characters developed during the course of the film, particularly Mitzi - this adds a hook to attract the viewer, because we are unsure of exactly how the story will develop until right at the end.
Part of the comedy is the outrageous situations that the girls find themselves in, usually dressed in full drag queen costumes. There are, however, a couple of killer lines, almost always delivered by Terence Stamp, that really do make the film something special and memorable - I don't want to give them away here because that will take away from a newcomer's enjoyment of the film. And there is a superb section that involves an Asian girl and ping pong balls - you can probably guess the rest. There is a more serious side to the film though, and one that doesn't include the characters personal lives - it is the way that drag queens, homosexuals and anyone who doesn't conform is judged by society. There are a couple of occasions where the three queens get involved in fights simply because of the way that they look, which leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth.
The film is suprisingly beautiful to watch. Much of the trip is out in the middle of the desert with nothing but rocks and sand as far as the eye can see. Director Stephan Elliott has made the most of this beauty with wide, panning shots across the panorama, interspersed with up close shots of insects and amphibians and wonderful shots of the drag queens in full costume, often up on top of the bus with lots of trailing materials. It all looks amazing and, apart from the drag queens, is very reminiscent of Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout. On top of all this is a fabulous sound track, usually played by the original artist and lip synched by the drag queens. The most memorable of songs include Mamma Mia by ABBA, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, Go West by The Village People and I've Never Been to Me, by Charlene.
I don't think anyone is going to accidentally watch this film - it is very clear from the cover and from the first two minutes of the film that it is about men who dress up and are largely homosexual - so I don't think anyone can really be offended. However, there is a 15 rating, so it is worth considering whether you want your children to watch it or not. I suspect most of the sexual comments and jokes will go over their heads, but that is something for parents to decide on, and there is a fair amount of swearing.
I love this film and it is one that maintains its freshness despite the fact it is about 15 years old now, perhaps because the fashion is so way out anyway, that it doesn't age the film. And the performances are excellent by any stretch of the imagination. If you haven't already seen it, then I can highly recommend it - it really is worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.
The DVD is available from play.com for £2.99.
Running time: 99 minutes
Summary: A classic film, well worth a watch