Introspection And a Big Lavender Bus Entry: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
When you’re a film person, movies mean more to you than most people. Being an only child, shy, introverted, movies mean a LOT to me. Instead of creative projects, tax breaks, or mainstream products intended to sell tickets, they are living, breathing things to me. They age, certainly, and they are like having one-sided conversations, but honestly, don’t we all have friends who, when we ask them how they’re doing, we KNOW they aren’t going to ask a single question about us? That is what watching Priscilla the other night was for me. I first saw Priscilla in high school, when it first came out. It played briefly at the local arthouse in West Palm, and then was gone. I don’t remember what made me want to see it in the first place, other than the costumes. . .I’m not even sure watching it was my idea. Maybe a friend suggested it. But it’s become one of those landmarks of my life that I can’t help but return to now and then; in the ever-changing landscape of life, where everything is ephemeral–relationships, societies, fashion trends, even the landmarks around your house–it’s nice to see a few things that don’tchange, that you can look at and recognize that YOU were the thing that changed. Priscilla is the story of two gay men and a transsexual who leave their metropolitan haven of Sydney and venture into the outback, to put on a show in the rural area of Alice Springs. Mitzi Del Bra, played by a very young, pre-Hollywood Hugo Weaving (and really, this is the movie that has ALWAYS been one of my favorite performances of his) is the backbone of the group, a drag performer who answers a call from an old friend in need and sets in motion the story events. Bernadette, played by old “Kneel Before Zod” himself, Terence Stamp, is a middle-aged transsexual who has just lost her husband. She provides a calm center of rationality amidst the otherwise whimsical characters, and is always ready with a sardonic observation on the situation. Felicia JollyGoodFellow, aka Adam, played by a young, hunky Guy Pearce in one of his first ‘hit it big’ roles. He would be better known to American audiences a few years later, in LA Confidential, but he’ll always be Felicia first, in my mind, even as he disappears into roles and constantly turns out brilliant performances.
Priscilla has a special place in my heart also because of the two years or so my friends and I spent quoting it. . . and it is infinitely quotable. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t exactly have become a cult hit, and still be performed today onstage.
“Fuck off, ya gutless pack of dickheads.”
“Oh Felicia. . . where the fuck are we?”
“Oh for CHRIST’S SAKE.”
“Now listen here, you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon and blow your box apart? Because it’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get, sweetheart.”
“There. NOW you’re fucked.”
“Bernice. . .has left. . .her cake out. . . in the rain!”
Sophomoric? Certainly. But we were in high school. Swearing and discussing filthy things was just part of life. However, each of those quotes doesn’t do the scene it springs from justice, as each were delivered so perfectly, by such gifted actors, that they are raised to the level of great drama.
Of course I am falling victim to the outsider’s curse–I’m not a gay man, so you could make the argument that I’m totally projecting and viewing the film through rose-colored glasses. I do identify with the characters, somewhat–after all, prescribed gender roles such as the ones the characters struggle with were a problem I also dealt with as a child. Being different and dealing with the fallout of that, and the sometimes strained relationships that develop (a friend you keep because you value what they bring to the friendship, even as they drive you crazy sometimes). But this is the kind of movie that anyone can sit down and plug into.
Basically, for a good adult comedy/drama, you can’t go wrong with Priscilla. I watched The Birdcage a few weeks ago and was kind of disappointed at how it hadn’t aged well for me. . . the performances seemed shrill and forced, and the character Val I just couldn’t stand at all. Watching Priscilla, and enjoying it at least as much as I did when I first saw it, was like visiting old friends I hadn’t seen in years.