The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a 1994 Australian road comedy film written and directed by Stephan Elliott. The plot follows two drag queens played by Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce and a transgender woman, played by Terence Stamp, as they journey across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a tour bus that they have named “Priscilla”, along the way encountering various groups and individuals. The film’s title references the slang term “queen” for a drag queen or female impersonator.
The film was a surprise worldwide hit and its positive portrayal of LGBT individuals helped to introduce LGBT themes to a mainstream audience. It received predominantly positive reviews and won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design at the 67th Academy Awards. Among other designers the film’s costume department included many pieces of Costume jewelry by Ziggy Attias of Ziggy Originals, NYC. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and became a cult classic both in Australia and abroad. Priscilla subsequently provided the basis for a musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which opened in 2006 in Sydney before travelling to New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Broadway.
Anthony “Tick” Belrose (Hugo Weaving), using the drag pseudonym of Mitzi Del Bra, is a Sydney-based drag queen who accepts an offer to perform his drag act at Lasseters Hotel Casino Resort managed by his estranged wife Marion in Alice Springs, a remote town in central Australia. After persuading his friends and fellow performers, Bernadette Bassenger (Terence Stamp), a recently bereaved transgender woman, and Adam Whitely (Guy Pearce), a flamboyant and obnoxious younger drag queen who goes under the drag name Felicia Jollygoodfellow, to join him, the three set out for a four-week run at the casino in a large tour bus, which Adam christens “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”.
While on the long journey through remote lands bordering the Simpson Desert, they meet a variety of characters, including a group of friendly Aboriginal Australians for whom they perform, the less accepting attitudes of rural Australia in such towns as Coober Pedy, and are subjected to homophobic abuse and violence, including having their bus vandalized with homophobic graffiti.
When the bus breaks down in the middle of the desert, Adam spends the whole day repainting it lavender to cover up the vandalism. The trio later meet Bob, a middle-aged mechanic from a small outback town who joins them on their journey after his wife leaves him. Before they arrive at Alice Springs, Tick reveals that Marion is actually his wife, as they never divorced, and that they are actually going there as a favour to her. Continuing their journey, Adam is almost mutilated by a homophobic gang before he is saved by Bob and Bernadette. Adam is shaken and Bernadette comforts him, allowing them to reach an understanding. Likewise, the others come to terms with the secret of Tick’s marriage and resolve their differences. Together, they fulfill a long-held dream of Adam’s, which, in the original plan, is to climb Kings Canyon in full drag regalia.
Upon arrival at the hotel, it is revealed that Tick and Marion also have an eight-year-old son, Benjamin, who Tick has not seen for many years. Tick is nervous about exposing his son to his drag profession and anxious about revealing his homosexuality, though he is surprised to discover that Benjamin already knows and is fully supportive of his father’s sexuality and career. When their contract at the resort is over, Tick and Adam head back to Sydney, taking Benjamin back with them, so that Tick can get to know his son. However, Bernadette decides to remain at the resort for a while with Bob, who has decided to work at the hotel after the two of them had become close.
There were two soundtrack albums recorded by Polydor Records (Australia) at Trackdown Digital for Stephan Elliott’s 1994 Academy Award winning film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The first consists of tracks for the film that were sourced from hit records, and the second is the original music score composed by leading Australian film composer Guy Gross.
One of the many wonderful things about the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was that it educated the populace on the school of drag. (At least a little.) Likewise, the film’s soundtrack also enlightens those who may have wrongly thought that drag is rooted specifically in disco and torch classics. Sure, there’s more than one version of disco stalwarts like “Shake Your Groove Thing,” “I Love the Nightlife,” and “I Will Survive,” but this collection also finds the camp in songs like Paper Lace’s “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “Take a Letter Maria” by R.B. Graves. And of course, Abba’s “Mamma Mia” emerges as the embodiment of overwrought dramatics. The soundtrack, with songs by the Village People and Vanessa Williams, is as much of a romp as the film. (Steve Gdula)
01. Charlen: I’ve Never Been To Me (Kirsch/Miller) 3.55
02. Village People: Go West (Belolo/Morali/Willis) 3.33
03. Paper Lace: Billy Don’t Be A Hero (Murray/Callander) 3.48
04. White Plains: My Baby Loves Lovin’ (Cook/Greenaway) 2.48
05. Alicia Bridge: I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round) (Original Version) (Bridges/ Hutcheson) 3.27
06. Trudy Richards: Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man (Kern/Hammerstein II) 2.39
07. Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive (Fekaris) 3.18
08. Lena Horne: A Fine Romance (Fields/Kern) 3.13
09. Peaches & Herb: Shake Your Groove Thing (Original Mix) (Fekaris/Perren) 5.33
10. Patti Page: I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine (David) 2.43
11. Ce Ce Peniston: Finally (7″ Choice Mix) (Peniston/Linnear/Delgado/Jackson) 4.09
12. R.B. Greaves: Take A Letter Maria (Greaves) 2.44
13. Abba: Mamma Mia (Andersson/Ulvaeus/Anderson) 3.34
14. Vanessa Williams: Save The Best For Last (Lind/Galdston/Waldman) 3.41
15. Alicia Bridges: I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round) (Real Rapino 7″ Mix) (Bridges/ Hutcheson) 3.33
16. Village People: Go West (Original 12″ Mix) (Belolo/Morali/Willis) 6.36
17. Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive (1993 Phil Kelsey Classic 12″ Mix) (Fekaris) 4.51
18. Peaches & Herb: Shake Your Groove Thing (Original 12″ Mix) (Fekaris/Perren) 6.38
19. Alicia Bridges: I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round) (Phillip Damien Extended Vox) (Bridges/Hutcheson) 6.22