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« What's on your cinematic mind? | Main | On This Day: The Bling Ring, Bambi, Prizzi's Honor... »
Wednesday
Jun142017

Soundtracking: "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"

It's Pride month, so this week's installment of Chris Feil's column on music in the movies celebrates a gay classic...

I’m guessing that there’s a good amount of crossover between your Pride playlist and the soundtrack for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. If not, get out. The song choices are veritable staples of the gay experience, a disco-inflected factory of delight.

Priscilla is one of the quintessential disco soundtracks. While younger generations may draw from more recent pop icons, disco has been an expression of queer pleasure that has lingered for decades as an integral part of gay pop culture...

That timeless pop sensibility reflects the resiliency of gay people and our defiant joy despite a cruel world, a relationship the film explores to heartwarming effect.

But the film opens with a more somber songstress track that speaks to gay identity. With “I’ve Never Been to Me”, we’re introduced to Tick (Hugo Weaving) and suggested a life full of experiences and meaningful hardships, yet still not fully self-actualized. We’ve been places and we’ve still got places to go, internally and externally.

Tick, Bernadette, and Felicia’s journey begins with the gay unity of “Go West”. Departing into the unfeeling and treacherously conservative desert, music becomes one of the group’s shields of armor. Who can’t relate to the solace of music when you’re a stranger in a strange land, particular an unwelcoming one? I myself live in a city oasis surrounded by Trump country - any road trip requires some queer tunes to dampen the hostile territory. In the confines of bus Priscilla, Bernadette, Tick, and Felicia create their own musical fortress of sing-alongs and references to block out that cruel world.

From “Shake Your Groove Thing” to “I Love the Nightlife”, the film shows the relationship between music and drag, how performance and presentation woos traditionalists while also mocking their narrowness. They are most successful with a crowd during “I Will Survive” - so surprise considering it’s become one of our most enduring gay classics, and one whose queerness has been most palatable for the straight crowd. But trust no bitch that omits “I Will Survive” from Pride month rotation.

When Guy Pearce’s slutacious Felicia Jollygoodfellow serves full operatic camp as the most fabulous hood ornament you’ve ever seen, her bus-topping drama provides the least pop-influenced musical moment, but the film’s most iconic one. So Priscilla’s musical defining of the gay experience isn’t explicitly limited to a synth machine.

It’s strange that we only hear mention of Bernadette’s (Terence Stamp) time as a showgirl without the film really giving her a number to express herself. The stage adaptation corrects this, flashing back to her time with Les Girls, but in the film you itch for her to get a solo moment outside of the group. Perhaps by musical omission there is something special to be taken by her ability to speak plainly her feelings without the facade of the stage.

“Finally” takes on a few literal meanings as the third act showstopper: a triumphant conclusion to their journey, a full-fledged musical number for the audience, and a moment for pure self-revelry and abandon on the stage. There’s room enough in the song for each queen’s individual stylization, just like how the song provided equally valid lipsync interpretations for Aja and Nina Bo’nina Brown on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And yet the song is definitive enough to present the three queens as singular voice to beat of CeCe Peniston. The most meaningful “finally” here is that they are a unified front.

So it’s fitting that the final Abba number is pure unadulterated fun, the happy result of a journey of self-discovery and affirmation, the end of the rainbow. The queens are finally at their most unfettered and steadied for the next road ahead, their joy fully lived instead of a put-on for the sake of performance. The once indifferent crowd now cheers along. Happy Pride!!!

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is now streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu!

Previously on Soundtracking:
Best Worst Thing...
Sister Act

American Honey

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Reader Comments (9)

Nice piece.

I think I saw this movie 5 times in the theater when it came out. There didn't seem to be anything like it before. It didn't seem to have the sad overtones of sooooo many gay movies before it.

I do remember Stamp on the press tour being asked playing a drag queen would hurt his career. And of course, he handled it like a pro, saying what a marvelous acting challenge it was. I don't think those questions would ever come out today.

June 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Stamp robbed of a nomination,I really enjoy Weaving here especially the way he sells years of back story with his child's mother,classic gay/srt8 or otherwise.

June 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Not only a great soundtrack, but a great film that certainly deserved a Best Picture nomination in 1994 over any other nominee than Pulp Fiction (but they were all great). Yes, "The Shawshank Redemption" included.

My 1994 nominees...

Pulp Fiction (winner)
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Clerks
Ed Wood
In the Mouth of Madness

6. The Lion King
7. Forrest Gump
8. Four Weddings and a Funeral
9. The Shawshank Redemption
10. Fresh

June 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

A perfect soundtrack

June 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

A perfect soundtrack

June 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

This is the very first soundtrack I ever bought

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

“I’ve Never Been to Me” - What a great song/opening scene!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

The first album I ever bought!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarek

You should have included the music video for the 1994 rerelease of Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife" which starred Hugo Weaving as a pilot who returns home to his humdrum life only to don a big blonde wig a dress and makeup and venture out into the streets with a shopping cart being fabulous. The release of that song in 1994 was a huge success as was the whole soundtrack here in Australia. Would never happen today, sadly.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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