Episode 57: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

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After last episode’s icy prison break, Sean and Cody go down under for Pride Month as they load up the bus for a queer road trip into the outback. In The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Australian drag queen Tick (Hugo Weaving) gets a gig to do a show in the remote outback down of Alice Springs, so he teams up with the flamboyant Felicia (Guy Pearce) and transgender widow Bernadette (Terence Stamp) to get a bus to transport them, their costumes and a giant high-heeled shoe halfway across the continent. But there’s more on the road than dust and kangaroos, as the trio encounter homophobia, unexpected allies, and various bonding experiences in the places they stop along the way. Environmental issues discussed include resource extraction in Australia, boom towns such as Broken Hill and Coober Pedy, aborigines and their sense of their land and history, and lots of queer history.

How did resource extraction, especially gold and other precious metals, shape the history and environment of modern Australia? How did queer history unfold in Australia and how was it different from the course of queer history in the U.S.? Which tiny Australian town produces 70% of the world’s opal? What was the only battle of World War I fought on Australian soil, and how did it come to involve an ice cream salesman? Which environmental hero’s name was claimed by 111 women arrested for an anti-nuclear protest near a site shown in the film? Was Australia slower to warm to LGBT equality than other countries, and if so, why? How did they get the iconic shot in this film? Who is lip-syncing to Vanessa Williams in the end credits? As progressive as this film was for its time, how is it still incredibly cringe-inducing today? All these questions are ready to do drag in the desert in this, the penultimate regular episode of Green Screen.

Modern (2019) trailer for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Early on in Priscilla, drag queen Felicia (Guy Pearce) lends the laboring oar–or high heel–in organizing the road trip to Alice Springs. His christening of the bus gives it, and the film, its name.
Bernadette (Terence Stamp) gets an unfriendly reception at a bar the likes of which unfortunately too many trans women receive on a daily basis, but she gives as good as she gets. Her retort is one of the film’s most iconic lines!
Stranded in the desert by the breakdown of Priscilla, the girls stage an impromptu drag show with a local Wangkangurru tribe. They join the Gloria Gaynor number with traditional indigenous instruments and singing.
Here it is, the film’s iconic sequence and, to hear director Stephan Elliott tell it, the whole reason the film was made. In the episode we discuss how this sequence almost didn’t come to be.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

Environmental History: Australia

Cliff Goddard and Anna Wierzbicka, “What does Jukurrpa (‘Dreamtime,’ ‘The Dreaming’) Mean? A Semantic and Conceptual Journey of Discovery,” Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2015, Vol. 1:
https://14ab89e3-42eb-42e3-9a4c-28888ecb7f8e.filesusr.com/ugd/294e93_2daf4caf23cb41dfae563679a6cd06d2.pdf

John Borthwick, “Of Art and War on Broken Hill,” Travel Intelligence, 2008:
https://web.archive.org/web/20080605042239/http://www.travelintelligence.com/travel-writing/1000030/Australasia/Australia/New-South-Wales/Broken-Hill/Of-Art-and-War-on-Broken-Hill.html

Peter Naessan, “The Etymology of Coober Pedy, South Australia,” Aboriginal History, Vol. 34 (2010):
https://www.jstor.org/stable/24047032

“Welcome to the Opal Capital of the World,” District Council of Coober Pedy, 2012:
https://web.archive.org/web/20120722164421/http://www.cooberpedy.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm

Luke Radford and Shannon Corvo, “Going Underground–Lessons for Suburbia From Subterranean Coober Pedy,” ABC News, November 14, 2020:
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-15/underground-housing-a-goldmine-of-sustainable-living-coober-pedy/12880618

History of the Desert Cave Hotel in Coober Pedy (the subterranean hotel seen in the film):
https://www.desertcave.com.au/the-history-of-coober-pedy

Scott Campbell-Smith, “Pine Gap Protests–Historical,” Nautilus.org, March-April 2002:
https://nautilus.org/publications/books/australian-forces-abroad/defence-facilities/pine-gap/pine-gap-protests/protests-hist/

Miscellaneous History

The Movie

Website for Broken Heel Festival, the drag festival directly inspired by this film:
https://www.bhfestival.com/

Keith Gallasch, “Mapping an Ugly Australia,” Real Time no. 85 (2008):
http://www.philipbrophy.com/projects/priscilla/critiques.html

Sean O’Brien, “Priscilla: Behind the Scenes,” National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, 2019:
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/adventures-priscilla-behind-scenes-stills-photographer-elise-lockwood

David Laderman, Driving Visions: Exploring the Road Movie, University of Texas Press, 2002 (Archive.org link):
https://archive.org/details/drivingvisionsex0000lade/mode/1up

Where you can find The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-adventures-of-priscilla-queen-of-the-desert

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109045/
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-adventures-of-priscilla-queen-of-the-desert/

Next Movie Up: Dances With Wolves (1990)

The image associated with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is presumably copyright (C) 1994 by Gramercy Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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