Posted on 6/21/13 11:52 PM
Before There Was Wong Foo
I've seen Superman II, I'm sure, but I don't actually remember it. Maybe I should get to those movies again soon. However, the only other thing I'd seen with Terence Stamp in it before this that I'm sure of is Young Guns. Which I can never remember is him. I've since seen a lot more movies with Guy Pearce in them than any of the others, but since I'm not a devotee of Australian soap operas, I'd never even really had a chance to see him in anything else first. Hugo Weaving has actually since become a bit of a litmus test for me. I like testing what people think of first when they think of him, though that does rather rely on their remembering who he is without having him identified for them. It's actually also possible that I've seen more of his movies that Guy Pearce's, though I was equally ignorant of his pre-Priscilla career. Then again, now, they've both played Marvel villains!
Sydney has rather lost some of its appeal for Anthony "Tick" Belrose (Weaving). His performances as Mitzi the Magnificent aren't exactly getting the most attention in the world. Then he gets a call out of nowhere from his wife, of whom he never speaks, demanding that he come out to Alice Springs and put on a show at the hotel she manages, or possibly owns, out there. Because he knows he owes her, he gets transsexual Bernadette Bassenger (Stamp), who hides the name of Ralph Waite, and the obnoxious and childish Felicia Jollygoodfellow (Pearce), known to her upper class mother as Adam Whitely. Adam talks his mother into paying for a bus, which they dub the eponymous Priscilla, and off they go into the outback and toward Alice Springs. They have a series of extremely Australian adventures while they're at it, eventually including picking up a mechanic named Bob Spart (Bill Hunter) and taking him along with them, because his life isn't going very well and neither is their bus.
They're actually extremely lucky to survive. I mean, we joke a lot about Australia, but it's a huge and unforgiving place. They sure as hell don't have enough water, and all the booze they drink is just going to dehydrate them worse. Last year, a group of us drove down to LA in this mad rush that was a lot of fun and awful all at once. The driving distance between Sydney and Alice Springs is about 1800 miles. (They take a shortcut, but let's disregard that for the moment; their journey is probably longer for other reasons.) That is several hundred miles shorter than the trip to California was for us, and while we had the potential for a blowout, we never actually broke down and made the trip, including stops, fewer than ninety hours roundtrip. However, we were never in as much danger as they were, in no small part because even the most isolated stretches of I5 between Olympia and LA are nowhere near as isolated as Australian National Highway A1 between Port Augusta and Alice Springs.
I've never been to a drag show, myself, and to be honest, they don't entirely interest me. The ridiculous costumes are amusing to me in no small part because we only see them for a couple minutes at a time. The only one who wears drag through the entire picture is Bernadette, and for her, it isn't drag. It is who she is. However, watching anyone stand around lip-synching isn't of much interest to me. Male, female, in drag or not--really, what's the point? Some of the costumes are fun, and if they danced, that would be fine, but mostly, they're just strutting around and pretending to sing. Okay, what I've seen of the Lady Chablis was amusing; while she did lip-synch, you were at least partly there for her personality, not what she was actually doing with it. I can see doing stand-up in drag or what have you, and that could be fun. But what they're shown as doing? I wouldn't pay to get into that, and if that were all the movie was, I wouldn't own the movie.
However, it isn't. It's about personalities. This is, of course, what makes it better than Wong Foo, its American counterpart. These aren't magical drag queens. They're just three people. They have lives; we actually learn about all of their pasts, though that of Mitzi the Magnificent is the most detailed. We see Adam learn that life isn't as easy as he's always expected it to be. It's an important lesson for anyone to learn, and all the more important for someone who is Different. Really, I'm glad we got Hugo Weaving and not Tim Curry, who was offered the role, as Mitzi, because we would have thought we'd known what to expect from Tim Curry. The casting was supposedly deliberately three butch actors, and Tim Curry is many things, but butch isn't one of them. And of course, none of these three ended up as butch in this story, but that rather let them develop their characters as new characters, not as what we all expected when we saw Dr. Frank N. Furter again.