The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert: 10th Anniversary CE
Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 100 mins .
M15+ . PAL
It’s fairly safe to say that all little girls simply love any chance to frock up and attack the old makeup box – and so it seems do quite a number of little boys. When you think about it, there’s absolutely no harm in it, save for the presence of a remarkably questionable group of bogan idiot males out there completely unable to handle their testosterone and so insecure in their masculinity that they become personally affronted by it – and, when it comes to older little boys, find the need to beat seven varying shades of shite out of them. Ah, what an enlightened society we live within.
Still, mercifully it seems that the wheel is ever so slowly turning, and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, about to celebrate its tenth anniversary, is as good a proof as any. A tale of three drag performers – two transvestites and one transsexual (there’s actually a huge difference) – who, through varying circumstances, decide they need a break from Sydney, set out on an outback odyssey, destination Alice Springs.
"You’ve GOT to be f*cking kidding?"
The youngest of the three, the rather flamboyant and stereotypically bitchy ‘Felicia’ (Guy Pearce), procures them a bus – the titular Priscilla – through a touch of parental extortion, and after stocking up on a bit of product our band of intrepid performers are soon on the road, winning over some locals en route, as well as exposing the sad small mindedness of others. Encountering everything from chocolate crackles, corroborees and dickhead rednecks to being upstaged by ping-pong balls along the way, it’s a trip filled with many discoveries and revelations, with ‘Mitzi’ (Hugo Weaving) and the rather jaded Bernadette (Terence Stamp) each facing their own particular life transitions, while Felicia just kind of remains his own rather flibbertigibbet self.
Donning the desert prerequisites, shades.
There is a little darkness to be found in Priscilla, but generally it’s an out-and-out feel good film with just a little bit of a twist, which is in many ways why it works so well. Basically a dragged-up fish out of water tale, it’s filled with genuine laugh-out loud moments, the odd spot of pathos which doesn’t bog things down, a few fabulous production numbers which dredge up the odd ‘70s classic or three, absolutely awe-inspiring costumes and some simply gorgeous outback scenery, and is as unique today as when it first hit the world’s cinema screens back in the early ’90s. While much to-do has been made of it making fun of women rather than celebrating them – an accusation many drag acts have levelled at them (and, admittedly, sometimes appropriately) – that’s not the vibe going on here, in fact if you’re prepared to plug a few brain cells in you’ll realise it’s having more of a go at that pathetic male “faggot” attitude as mentioned above, which sadly is all to prevalent even today.
Well, after the original full frame travesty which is all that’s been available for Priscilla-philes all this time, it’s great to finally witness things how they were meant to be seen – lavishly lounging about a fabulously wide, 2.35:1 ‘Dragarama’ ratio. That’s the good news; however it isn’t all daiquiris, sunshine and lollipops with this 16:9 enhanced transfer.
Gene Simmons, eat your heart out!
The main issue is aliasing and shimmer - lots of aliasing, lots of shimmer. Not restricted to the obvious such as Priscilla and her somewhat chrome-laden skin, the nasties tend to crop up all over the place, and at times are incredibly distracting. Couple this with the fact that not exactly the greatest original source has been used – one quite rife at times with speckles, massive blobs and even reel change markers – and it ends up being good, but nowhere near as good as you’d expect from a film which is only coming up on its tenth birthday.
On the positive side, colour is generally as glorious as it needs to be to do justice to everything from those sunburnt outback vistas™ to the outrageous, seizures-in-retinas inducing colours of the gals’ numerous costumes and frocks. Blacks are pretty good, while the detail department is intriguing – rare darker scenes do OK, if not great, while generally the film has a slight fuzziness to it for the most part. Sadly whoever plopped the layer change where it is must have tripped over their six-inch heels at the time, as it’s a bit of a shocker, A fade to black occurs within minutes and would have been a much comfier home for it.
We’re hardly starved for choice in the audio department, with three mixes offering to satiate our every aural need…
Can you hear the drums?
There’s Dolby Digital stereo, which is perfectly fine if you’re stuck with a limited speaker budget or are running things through a telly, but otherwise rather drab and not worth prattling on about. What are more worthy of a decent natter, however, are the two 5.1 mixes – of the DTS and Dolby Digital camps. Some lovely things have been delivered in both mixes (which happen to sound essentially identical, unless I have gabardine ears or something), with much use of the rears (the flies!) as well as splashing things about the front stereo sound field thingy. The subwoofwoof offers some mildly enthusiastic support for more apt musical numbers (refreshingly when a teensy cassette recorder is used to supply musical accompaniment there’s no bass explosion, as indeed there shouldn’t be), and all tends to be synched delightfully, remarkably even when there’s so much lip-synching to all manner of other peoples’ tunes involved.
This, of course, leads us perfectly to more mention of the soundtrack. Mercifully being limited to Polygram’s back catalogue did no disservice to the world of Priscilla at all, with a varied array of camp classics and genuinely stirring tunes all on offer. From Charlene’s hopelessly comical I’ve Never Been to Me to the pop perfection of ABBA’s Mamma Mia, the more anthemic than the most anthemic of anthemy things I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor and even a rousing outbreak of Hava Nagila, you’re likely to find yourself singing along before you even realise it – and go for it, you’re not in a cinema now, have fun darlings! Meanwhile, Guy Gross delivers one of those spectacularly perfect scores which does its gig as it should – adding immeasurably to the feeling of the film, without prancing about in a pink boa shrieking “Yoo-hoo! I’m a score! Listen to meeeeee!”
Extras – we have extras – yay!
First up, and perhaps most excitingly, is a full-length commentary from director Stephan Elliott. Now, he’s quite the garrulous fellow, and he delivers one of the best examples of this new art ever heard by this particular reviewing-type person, who must admit to regularly recoiling in abject horror at the mere mention of the things as they’re usually about as exciting as a leg wax. But no, Stephan is a very engaging chappie, flippety-flopping all over the place with an appropriately flamboyant affair offering grand tales of getting this particular baby of his off the ground despite opposition from just about everywhere, casting, working on a limited budget, dealing with the outback and pretty much anything else you can think of - plus he’s not afraid to name names, leading to some engaging goss about actors considered for inclusion, and musical people with absolutely no sense of fun at all.
Warning, high heels ahead...
A selection of three deleted scenes follows, from a film which apparently had little flab to begin with. Totalling less than six minutes, they all could have stayed, although the existence of a quote from The Sound of Music I simply can’t imagine Julie Andrews uttering (I have never watched the thing, I will never watch the thing) may be reason enough for one of the chops. In a similar vein is a very fun selection of outtakes under the title Behind the Bus – Priscilla with Her Pants Down. Trundling along for 8:42, we have a real rarity, a collection of ‘bloopers’ which are genuinely entertaining. All of these are presented in 2.35:1, with 16:9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
Three trailers (all enhanced 1.78:1 with DD 2.0 sound) are next on our itinerary. The original Australian one is here (2:59), coming up a little dry and resplendent in its incredible ignorance by billing our three protagonists all as guys. The US trailer (2:30) is essentially a carbon copy, but with a typically American voiceover, while the only thing offering up a little more imagination is the US teaser (1:05), with its somewhat titter-worthy alien beings schtick.
Next up is a featurette from 1994 (48:25), entitled Ladies Please. Somewhat curiously delivered in a 1.33:1 ratio within a 16:9 enhanced, 1.78:1 frame, this is more of a look into the world of drag via three artistes of the medium than anything overtly Priscilla-related other than the glaringly obvious (although a few minutes towards the end are devoted to it, sewing up a few threads from throughout), there are some interesting insights including a look at familial reactions and societal attitudes, along with the odd performance (in one case we mean literally odd, as in Laurie Anderson odd).
Wrapping things up then popping a spunky little bow on proceedings is a collection of very through cast and crew biographies/filmographies for 15 folk involved with the production. With only four being for on-screen people, it gives a great chance to learn more about those behind the scenes for those that way inclined. Oh, as an extra bit of icing there’s a hidden piece of footage. It’s not exactly a mind-bending challenge to find (and we’re not talking about the not-really-an-eggy Village logo on the menu), but if you’re explorationally bereft you can have it handed to you in a shiny silver eggcup by visiting our eggies page.
Oh, depending upon which audio mix you plump for there’s either the DTS ‘piano’ trailer or the Dolby Digital ‘wet’ one. These are forgivable; however the advertisement for a certain Gold Coast theme park which spews forth on playing the movie is most certainly not, despite its ability to be skipped – we’d just like to send out some massive bitch slaps to the cretin(s) responsible for this insult.
Let down only by an average rather than stunning video transfer, this second DVD incarnation of Priscilla is still in a league of its own compared to the completely substandard first release. As much of a breath of fresh air as when it first burst forth all those years ago, anybody with fond memories – or indeed anybody who hasn’t had the unique pleasure by now – is guaranteed of a rollicking good fun time.
Unless you’re one of those testosterone-drenched f*ckwits of course, in which case piss off and drop dead, we don’t want your pathetic type around here anyway.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "