|The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert|
Terence Stamp: Bernadette
Hugo Weaving: Tick/Mitzi
Guy Pearce: Adam/Felicia
Bill Hunter: Bob
Sarah Chadwick: Marion
Mark Holmes: Benji
Julia Cortez: Cynthia
Ken Radley: Frank
Alan Dargin: Aboriginal Man
Rebel Russell: Logowoman
Executive Producer: Rebel Penfold-Russell
Producer: Al Clark & Michael Hamlyn
Director: Stephan Elliott
Screenwriter: Stephan Elliott
Editor: Sue Blainey
Cinematographer: Brian Breheny
Music director: Anthony Walker
Composer: Guy Gross
Production designer: Owen Patterson
Art design: Colin Gibson
Stunts: Robert Stimper
Makeup: Cassie Hanlon & Angela Conte
Choreography: Mark White
Costumes: Lizzy Gardiner & Tim Chappel
Drag Consultant: Strykermeyer
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT is the story of three drag
queens who leave Sydney and travel halfway across Australia to put on a
show at a resort. Along the way their bus breaks down and they find
themselves performing in unlikely places where the reactions range from
hilarious to hostile to incredulous to accepting.
The idea for the film occurred to writer/director Stephan Elliott when he
was walking along Oxford Street, Sydney's "gay strip," just after the
annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The wind was blowing a plume of
feathers along the abandoned street, and to Elliott it looked like
tumbleweed in an old western. His mind began to race with thoughts of how
members of the tightly knit gay and transvestite community would cope in a
largely alien environment.
"The basic comic premise is- three people, who may as well be Martians, in
the middle of this enormous country," says producer Al Clark.
And for Elliott it was an opportunity to revive a grand old film
tradition. "The film was a great excuse to bring back the Hollywood
musical. Today, drag queens are emblematic of all the style, the glitz,
the glamour and the pain of those extravaganzas," says Elliott.
The combination of performance and glamour, underlined with real humanity,
brings an entirely new dimension to the art of performance drag in THE
ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "What this film does for the
drag scene is what Sean Connery did for the secret service," says producer
Michael Hamlyn, "It glamorizes it."
"It's more than dressing up in women's clothes or strict female
impersonation," says Lizzy Gardiner, one of the film's wardrobe designers.
"It's theater. Drag is our version of Kabuki."
In selecting his Mitzi, Felicia and Bernadette, Elliott cast against type
and was ecstatic at the results "The three boys showed no fear," he says.
"They saw this as a remarkable opportunity."
And that no-holds-barred commitment brought an additional layer of
excitement to the film, For the actors, drag was more than costuming, It
became a liberating means of inner expression.
"It was such a release," recalls Hugo Weaving (Tick/Mitzi), "I realized
that everyone has their own drag inside them and I wanted to get out there
and find mine. It is such a liberating, therapeutic experience - and such
"In life, I think the reason you act in a particular way is because of the
way you see yourself," says Guy Pearce (Adam/Felicia), "When you see
yourself looking totally different, it actually releases another side of
you. I loved it."
Practically speaking, however, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the
rigors of drag. "Playing Bernadette gave me an insight into what women put
up with every day," says Terence Stamp (Bernadette), whose casting Elliott
described as using "one of the most beautiful men in the world and
transforming him into an attractive older woman."
"I wouldn't recommend the bras, the high heels, the make-up, the heavy
earrings or trying to put on stockings with false nails," says Stamp in
total deadpan. He has no intention of repeating the experience.
The film was shot in 40 days in various locations in and around Sydney,
Broken Hill, Coober Pedy, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs. In all, the cast
and crew traveled 3,334 kilometers from the metropolitan heart of Sydney
to the stark but beautiful desert of central Australia.
The production often took on the guise of a road-train forging its way
through the outback, camping out in remote and primitive areas with
communication virtually cut off except by radio.
There was a reason for such verisimilitude. "To make the film
appropriately epic," says Al Clark, "we had to make the same journey that
the characters do in the film. There was no sense of belonging, so instead
there had to be a sense of mission."
The locations were chosen precisely for their remoteness, providing
realistic problems for the cast and crew who had to contend with the dust,
the heat and primitive road conditions that wreaked havoc on the
equipment, wardrobe and make-up.
"Once we left Coober Pedy, that was it," says director of photography
Brian Breheny. "We had to make sure that we had enough stock and stand-by
equipment to last us until we got to Alice Springs."
The intense heat and rough conditions were ruinous to many of the 38
individual drag outfits that were designed for the film, including
extravagant head-dresses and wigs. This kept the wardrobe and make-up
departments in a constant state of fixing and patching up. Then, in the
midst of the wilds, the production's stock of condoms disappeared, causing
unforeseen problems in giving the three central characters convincing
bosoms. (The condoms were blown up and allowed to settle for a day to give
them a realistic pendulousness).
Freak weather conditions also plagued the production. "We had the annual
rainfall of Coober Pedy in just one week and three years worth of rain in
one day at Kings Canyon," says Michael Hamlyn.
As a result, Priscilla and other vehicles had to be dug out of thigh-high
mud. Roads became impassible and the production was cut off for two days,
requiring adjustments in the shooting schedule.
But Elliott took it all in stride. "I work better under pressure. I was
exhausted by the end of the shoot, but the worse it got, the more
challenging it became for me."
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor mud deterred Priscilla from reaching her
destination intact. "The shoot had the energy of a rock-video," says
Breheny. "Everyone was up. The music was pumping, the costumes outrageous,
and the situations bizarre."
Says Stamp: "Stephan included a special fun clause in the contract
negotiations, which he absolutely fulfilled. It was an incredibly fun
film, with an extraordinarily talented group of people."
"This film felt as though it slotted into a dimension which had been
prepared in advance, To complete the last shot of the film and turn around
and see the full moon in Scorpio that had just risen - it was the perfect
end to the movie."
By the end of shooting the ebullience level was so high that each and
every male crewmember donned drag and posed for the cast and crew shot.
A true photo finish.
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (Gramercy) is an Australian
road movie with a twist. Priscilla is the name of a big pink bus that is
used by three drag queens from Sydney who must cross the desert to get to a
nightclub booking way out West. Their comedic misadventures in the Outback
are fitfully amusing, and the message of tolerance and
live-your-own-life-no-matter-what is as comforting as a pair of broken-in
pumps. One has to consider PRISCILLA a must-see for the very subtle
performance of Terence Stamp as a stoic transsexual named Bernadette. With
that shoulder-length coif, Stamp looks a bit like a hungover Tallulah
Bankhead with split ends. He's a trifle stiff in the dance routines, but
he's come a long way, baby, since BILLY BUDD. Are the constumes tacky? Let's
just say that even Lady Bunny wouldn't wear one of them to RuPaul's wake. On
second thought, those frocks are so ghastly Milton Berle wouldn't wear them
to that same event. It's all a matter of taste, to be sure. Lizzy Gardiner
and Tim Chappel took home an Oscar for their designs.
Fabulous costumes, marvelous location shooting, and a great retro
soundtrack in this feel-good film about two queens and a
transsexual road-tripping across the Australian Outback to an
obscure resort town are just a few of highlights of this
magnificently fun film. Terence Stamp (yes, General Zod from the
Superman movies!) is brilliant as Bernadette, the transsexual
ex-drag queen. Guy Pearce (recently featured in L.A. Confidential)
is hilarious as the annoyingly campy, "always-on" newbie performer
(and he's drop-dead gorgeous to boot!). Definitely worth seeing