The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" is a film I'd always enjoyed. For the uninitiated, it is a drag queen road trip movie set in Australia starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce. Watching the new "Extra Frills" edition on DVD, you really get an appreciation for what an amazing movie it is. It's a wonder it ever got made.

The costumes won an Academy Award that year, but were largely bought with someone's employee discount at K-Mart, and rarely held together longer than it took to shoot the scene, on the rare occasion they lasted that long. The shoot seemed to hit the breaking point for the leads on several occasions, and they took so long actually climbing in drag to the top of the mountain for one of the final shots in the movie that they had to be airlifted, one at a time, off the mountain by helicopter as the sun went down.

I'm big into deleted scenes, and audio commentaries, and this DVD doesn't disappoint in that regard. While I do wish there were more deleted scenes and such available, the director says pretty plainly that there wasn't much shot that isn't in the final film.

One revelation I got from watching is that the director was really going for a specific drag look that was big in Australia at the time, whereby it was just guys wearing dresses and not necessarily someone who would actually be trying to transform into Whitney Houston or whatever. The other is how huge the movie has crossed over into the public consciousness, so much that on September 11, 2001, when a lot of TV channels were yanking any violent movies off television, Priscilla was shown dozens of times on different channels that week as a feel-good movie. Also, if you want to learn why Bernadette's lover was nicknamed Trumpet, you need to check out the extras, as well (he couldn't play an instrument).

After all these years, it is still amusing to watch Terence Stamp as Bernadette, who always seems more comfortable in the flick as a transgender woman offstage than when he's dressed up and performing onstage. Hugo Weaving just makes me flash-forward and see Agent Smith from The Matrix films (or Lord of the Rings, I suppose, if you're into that). And Guy Pearce, who became such a serious actor in Memento and L.A. Confidential, is just mincing about like a young, annoying gay boy who performs the whole time.

When I started watching it again, having not seen it for years, I started thinking it might not hold up but, by the end, I had been pulled in again. The film sneaks a lot of heart in between the snide remarks, the bickering, the dragtastic musical numbers, and the road trip.

So, if you never saw Priscilla before, or it's been a while, it's worth getting on the bus, putting on some lipstick, and taking the "Extra Frills" ride on DVD.