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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert(1994)
Two drag queens and a transsexual get a cabaret gig in the middle of the desert.
For more about The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray release, see the The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter, Sarah Chadwick, Mark Holmes
Director: Stephan Elliot
» See full cast & crew
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray Review
"Ladies, start your engines."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 8, 2011
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar is the movie that comes immediately to mind when most Americans think of three drag queens on a road trip in a prone-to-breaking-down vehicle, but an earlier, superior, and more extravagantly gaudy film—one with an equally long name —fits that bill as well. Australian director Stephen Elliott's The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert pre-dates To Wong Foo by a year and bests it by a country mile. Elliott claims he made the film partially to dispel the idea of Australia as a strictly rough-n-tumble place, reminding us that the former penal colony has a softer side—a vibrant and thriving gay scene. Like Easy Rider and the hippy movement of the 1960s, The Adventures of Priscilla uses the tropes of the road movie to show the personal face—in this case, a face made-up with rouge, eyeliner, and pancake batter foundation—of the distinctly outside-the-mainstream camp subculture. It's also the cattiest comedy this side of All About Eve. You can expect lots of sassy one-liners from a trio of queens for whom witty verbal abuse is something of a fine art.
The story opens in Sydney, where sad-eyed cross-dressing cabaret artist "Tick" Belrose (Hugo Weaving)—who goes by the stage-name Mitzy Del Bra —gets a call about a four-week gig at a hotel/casino in Alice Springs, way out in the middle of the outback. He conscripts two of his fellow performers to come along; Bernadette (Terrence Stamp), a middle-aged, matronly transsexual whose husband has just died in a freak hair peroxide accident, and Adam "Felicia Jollygoodfellow" Whitely (Guy Pearce), a cackling hyena of a queen who's obsessed with the idea of climbing Kings Canyon dressed in drag. ("That's just what this country needs," says Bernadette, "a cock in a frock on a rock.") Felicia procures a beat-up old tour bus—which he dubs Priscilla—and the three set off, supplied with a sewing machine, a giant prop stiletto, and more chiffon and sequins than a Judy Garland tribute show. It takes just four hours of driving for the road trip to turn sour—Bernadette glowering in the driver's seat, Mitzy looking bored in back, and Felicia chatting non-stop about everything and nothing. "I'll join this conversation," says Bernadette, "on the proviso that we stop bitching about people, talking about wigs, dresses, bust sizes, penises, drugs, night clubs, and bloody ABBA!" Thankfully, the journey is more fun for us, the audience, than it is for them, especially once the queens of the desert start finding themselves in trouble.
Like most road movies, the plot amounts to an episodic collection of incidents. The girly men—or manly girls, however you want to look at it—turn heads in provincial towns from Sydney to Alice Springs, never hiding their true selves. Much of the time they provoke good-natured gawking, like when Mitzy and Felicia show up at a shopping center in a dress made of flip-flop sandals and a wig that looks to be constructed of pastel plastic drinking straws—respectively—or when they crash an aboriginal barbeque and perform a ridiculous lip-synced rendition of "I Will Survive." But they also court some serious danger in rural podunksvilles where it's clear that "their kind" isn't welcome. "Priscilla" gets painted with anti-gay, AIDS- invoking graffiti, Felicia takes a beating from some homophobic miners, and when the group does "Shake Your Groove Thing" in can-can costumes at a backwoods divebar, their routine is greeted by ominous silence. Here, at the film's low point—in so many ways—a friendly local mechanic's mail- order Filipina bride interrupts their show by getting up on stage in zebra-striped lingerie and shooting ping pong balls from her nether-parts. This, of course, gets a rousing response from the macho, beer-guzzling yokels. (It also earns the film some justified criticism for seeming more than just a teensy bit racist/misogynistic in its portrayal of the southeast Asian stripper.) Shamed, the mechanic, Bob (Bill Hunter), joins the three queens on the remainder of their cross-country excursion, a plot point that serves two purposes: 1.) If the bus breaks down there's someone to fix it, and 2.) Bob provides an unsuspected love interest for the mourning Bernadette.
Also like most road movies, the real journey is the internal transformation the characters make along the way, especially Mitzy. "Tick" has been hiding a secret from his cross-dressing compatriots about the real reason they're going to Alice Springs, and the film handles this particular subplot—which I'll leave unspoiled—with considerable tenderness and grace, bringing up feelings that are universal whether you're straight, gay, or somewhere in between. Bernadette's arc is relatable too. More mature, she's tired of the drama—along with the constant expectation to be theatrical—and just wants to settle down. Nevermind that her particular breakfast bowl is filled with hormone therapy pills and not corn flakes; we all get to the place where we want nothing more than peace and love and quiet. For his part, Felecia gets a little less bitchy and a lot more fun as the story enters its final act. The film's almost old-fashioned happy ending—a hike up Kings Canyon in full-on frou-frou regalia—is something like a big, gay anti-Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Priscilla is very funny and even touching in its own odd way, and credit goes to both Stephen Elliott's sharp script and a brilliant, pitch- perfect cast. The comic chemistry between the three leads sizzles. If you've only seen Terrence Stamp as a stereotypical villain—in the first two Superman movies, The Phantom Menace, or Valkyrie—you'll be surprised by his alternately arch and sensitive performance as Bernadette. The same goes for Hugo Weaving, who's now known for his straight-laced roles in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies, but couldn't be more bent here. Neither of these men are what you might call objectively attractive, but this only adds to their sad clownishness in drag. Guy Pearce, on the other hand, is a pretty boy if there ever was one, and he tarts up nicely, vamping flamboyantly, a preening prima-donna. (Everything you need to know about his character is revealed in the fact that he carries around an ABBA member's stool sample in a glass jar as a lucky charm.) The film's most iconic image is of Felicia singing, strapped upright to the top of the bus in a gaudy, silver-sequined getup, a 50 ft. cape billowing in the breeze behind him. Watching the film now, some seventeen years after its release, you get the sense that Lady Gaga based her entire career around this single scene.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Adventures of Priscilla receives a strong high definition upgrade from MGM, who have given the film a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's sharp, filmic, and—as you can imagine—exceptionally colorful. Aside from a few scattered white specks, the print is in fabulous condition, and the image is entirely natural, with a rich grain structure and no signs of digital noise reduction or edge enhancement. The picture is quite crisp on its own, as you'll notice in the textures of Terrence Stamp's make-up covered face, the close-ups of scaly, slithering outback fauna, and the wonderfully detailed sequins and chiffons of the three queens' elaborate costumes. Some split-diopter shots and wider angles take on a softer look, but this is completely source related. As you'd expect, there's a surplus of bright, flashy color in the film—every hue imaginable makes an appearance during the cabaret sequences— and this transfer handles it well, with no splotchiness, bleed, or oversaturation. Black levels are deep too, and contrast tight, which gives the image plenty of pop and depth. Lastly, placed on a 50 GB disc, there are no visible compression-related anomalies. I don't think fans could've asked for better.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray, Audio Quality
You haven't lived until you've heard Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" accompanied by a didgeridoo, and The Adventures of Priscilla's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track grants you that unusual opportunity. This mix is defined by its camp pop music pedigree, from Charlene's "I've Never Been to Me" and Peaches & Herb's "Shake Your Groove Thing" to ABBA's "Mamma Mia." The music sounds excellent—big and potent and dynamically active—and the songs frequently take up space in the rear channels as well, giving the track some punchy immersion. Elsewhere, the surround speakers are mostly used for occasional pan effects, like a helicopter swooshing from left to right, and an adequate amount of quiet ambience, like thunder, barroom noise, etc. Dialogue seems a bit low in the mix—and it certainly doesn't help that the Aussie accents are quite thick at times—but there's never a moment when the voices become muffled or unintelligible. If you ever want or need them, English SDH and other subtitles are available in easy-to- read white lettering.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Adventures of Priscilla beat To Wong Foo to the punch when it released in 1994, and even today it's still the better film—funny, entertaining, and surprisingly tender. You don't have to be a queen to enjoy Priscilla, you just have to have an open mind and a sense of humor. MGM has given the film an appropriately colorful transfer and a solid audio track—along with porting over all the significant features from the DVD—so I see no reason not to upgrade if you're a fan. Recommended!
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