Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

(Australia/UK, 1994)

Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, and Hugo Weaving are raging drag queens from Sydney who set out in an old bus for Alice Springs, 1723 miles away, through some of the most desolate land on Earth, every mile of it populated mostly by lizards, insects, and homophobes. (Aside: I think that most male actors relish the idea of playing a gay cross-dresser and really camping it up. Sometimes this is a disaster. This time it works.) My first thought: they must be out of their frickin’ minds, because they make no attempt at all to tone themselves down. They stroll down the streets of Coober Pedy in outfits that might even be banned in Las Vegas, and right into the local pub … where they are not lynched, because Stamp manages to out-insult the local lesbian. Soon they are drinking themselves blind, along with the rest of the town.

In fact, though they attract a lot of stares, they only get into one dust-up with bigots, and don’t come out of that too badly. I was really expecting something a lot worse, to sort of shock us out of what is, after all, a comedy. They have engine trouble and meet Bob, a crusty old cobber with a mail-order bride from Thailand who is a dancer, specialized in shooting ping-pong balls across the room from her vagina. Bob soon begins to discover feelings for Stamp, who is a post-op transsexual. And Hugo has a wife in Alice, and a six-year-old son, who he is terrified to meet …

It’s all in good fun. I wonder how outrageous it seemed almost twenty years ago? It seems less so now, with gay acceptance making such great strides. They are actually marrying same-sex couples Down Under these days. There’s much to like here, including all three performances (and Bob) but the highlight is the utterly unbelievable costumes, for which Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel won a well-deserved Academy Award.