It’s hard to believe that 21 years ago this week classic Australian drag queen road movie The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert was released.
For those unfamiliar with the film: the story centres on Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose (Hugo Weaving), a Sydney drag performer working under the moniker Mitzi Del Bra. When Tick’s friend Marion (and mother of his child) begs him to perform a drag show at the Alice Springs’ casino where she works, he enlists the help of flamboyant young queen Adam ‘Felicia Jollygoodfellow’ (Guy Pearse) and delightfully bitter transsexual (and drag performer) Bernadette Bassinger (Terence Stamp). Together they buy a decrepit old bus, (which they paint pink after it’s vandalised with some homophobic abuse) and set off for a rip-roaring romp through the Outback.
There’s laughter, tears and a billion classic lines to quote till the kangaroos come home.
So, here’s a selection of some of our favourite (Youtube clip available) scenes.
Bernadette’s Bar Smackdown
On the road it doesn’t take long for the gang to encounter small-town prejudice when they stop for refreshments at a dingy bar. Unperturbed by the distinctly Deliverance-vibes from the other patrons, Bernadette (Terrence Stamp) attempts to order a Stoli and tonic only to be met with startled silence. Finally an angry woman steps forward to tell her “We’ve got nothin’ here for people like you. Nothin’!”
“Now listen here you mullet,” she says softly to the angry mullet-sporting bigot. ”Why don’t you light your tampon, and blow your box apart because it’s the only bang you’re ever going to get, sweetheart.”
The stunned silence is soon followed by uproarious laughter and the tension dissipates so quickly that soon the ladies are dragging it up for the bar’s amusement. Take that, Mullet!
“You’re F**ked now.”
A drugged-out Felicia is rescued from a serious assault by Bernadette’s big-hearted paramour Bob (whom you might recognise him as Mr Hislop from Muriel’s Wedding) after a flirty encounter with some rural rednecks. Bob, Tick and Bernadette arrive just in time to save Felicia from castration and for Berndette to offer another withering put-down. ”Stop flexing your muscles, you big pile of budgie turd – I’m sure your mates would be just as impressed if you went back to the pub and fucked a couple of pigs on the bar.”
When alpha-scumbag turns his attentions from Felicia and offers to “fuck” Bernadette, she knees him in the testicles and tells him “You’re fucked now.”
Transsexual Drag Queens: defeating rural bigots one hilarious put-down at a time!
When Priscilla blows a gasket, the ladies find themselves stranded in the Outback. Luckily they end up being rescued by some friendly Indigenous Australians – by far the most accepting of all the groups they encounter – and in the spirit of cross-cultural education, the gang decide to repay their hosts with a performance of a traditional drag anthem – I Will Survive. They join in on their didgeridoos and soon it’s a didgeridoo drag spectacular! One of the silly, sweet moments that add to the movie’s charm.
The film rather fittingly ends with Tick, his son Benjamin, and Adam – minus Bernadatte, long tired of the drag game and about to settle down with Bob – leaving Alice Springs in Priscilla as Mamma Mia blasts in the background. The scene changes and we sees Mitzy and Felicia miming their way through the Abba classic on stage as Benjamin, looks on adoringly at his newly-rediscovered dad. And doubly significant as it ties in with Adam/ Felicia’s creepy obsession with Abba – as evidenced by his prized possession: a piece of faecal matter snatched from a toilet used by Agnetha Faltskog. Adorable!
The climactic scene of the movie – the gang’s performance at Lasseter’s Casino in Alice Springs finally (pun intended) after a long, eventful journey through outback Australia.
As ‘Finally’ by CeCe Peniston strikes up, the ladies take to the stage for the strangest, most vibrant (in a way only ‘90s movies can be) drag performance you’ve ever seen. The primary-coloured costumes were designed to follow the evolutionary scale: from plants to birds, lizards then people (fun fact: and the costumes were made by inmates at Long Bay prison in Malabar, New South Wales).
Bernadette’s po-faced, scowling performance, coupled with Felicia’s coquettish preening, all held together by Hugo Weaving’s consummate professional Mitzy DelBra, combine to create the best scene in the entire film.
© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.