A surprise hit in America, this 1994 Australian comedy is anchored by Terence Stamp as a transsexual who, in the company of two drag queens, travels to a remote desert location to put on a lip-synch performance--to the amazement of the locals. Getting there on a pink bus named Priscilla, the trio stop and play for people all over the Outback, getting the same homophobic, bewildered responses. The weak link in the film is dialogue that seems to have been pulled from "Queer Movie Banter for Dummies," all bitchy and cliché-ridden but fortunately salvaged by strong acting. The most fun comes whenever the three are performing; fans of Abba will be particularly pleased. --Tom Keogh
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert Extras
Watch Director Stephan Elliot talk about the film's iconic costumes.
An Interview with Priscilla Costume Designer Tim Chappel
| How much of costume design is your own inspiration / how much is inspired by the character?|
I rarely have creative free reign like I had on Priscilla. Priscilla was one of those rare situations where the powers that be said "Go for it". The characters are my babies. All design is meant to build character and help move the story along. Fortunately Mitzi, Felacia, and Bernardette were outrageous drag queens so that was not only easy bit great fun. Hard as it may seem, there are nuances that aren't obvious. For example when the queens are climbing Kings Canyon each of their headdresses are a distillation of their individual personalities. Bernardette is the Evil Queen, Mizti has lipsticks, rollers and pacifiers, and Felecia has Cupie dolls that are staring at themselves in little mirrors.
What is the process of physically rendering the costumes? Do you build them by hand? Work with a team? Hit vintage stores?
I usually begin by sketching roughs. Then once everyone has had their input - or cocked their leg as it seems more of the time, I do the finished sketches. These get signed off on literally becoming a visual contract. Then they get handed to the Costumier that builds a toile (a practice one). That gets fitted on the talent and we all um and ah--hopefully more ooh and ah if it's working well. Then we have a second fitting to perfect the fit and a final fitting to see the final project.
On Priscilla however I simply grabbed whatever I had around or worked out which costume could be sacrificed and started gluing and sewing and hoping for the best. If something started to break there was always the hot glue gun and a handful of glitter to disguise any lumps and bumps. The costumes were literally finished when they would tear them out of my hands.
Did any of the actors on Priscilla have any costume concerns? Was anyone concerned the costume would overpower their performance?
The actors were all good sports. Terence told us he wanted to look like Holly Golightly but he soon gave up on that idea. He actually looked quite beautiful at times I thought. There was a moment at Kings Canyon when Terrence said that something was bothering his forward and I looked over to see a single drop of blood run down his brow--whoops, with only $12,000 US there was no room for comfort.
What's the difference between cinematic fashion and street (real people) fashion? I.e., does it have to be "bigger" if it's on the screen?
There are lots of differences between what you wear on the street, on stage, or in stills. Each medium requires special attention. For example in film you have to find out what kind of film stock is being used, what kind of filters and the general visual feel that the production designer and cinematographer are trying to go for. Of course the Director is trying to convey very specific ideas and using texture, color and contrast your job is to build, along with your team, that visual statement.
The use of detail is also vital; sometimes you can't even see it but the actor will know its there and much detail, even though you can't literally see it, becomes absorbed in a more subconscious way.
In your opinion, who looked the most beautiful (lead roles) in drag, who was the most fun to work with?
They were all beauties. Guy Pearce had a background in musical theatre so he was prone to stealing the show. They were all great fun and still people I count as good friends.
Any idea the film would take off to become an enormous hit and cult classic as well as meaning so much to fans around the world?
We thought we were basically making a home movie; it wasn't until we had the 15-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival that we knew we had created a DRAG MONSTER!
Where did you get the inspiration and know-how regarding costumes? Was there research involved? How did you get involved in doing this movie?
I started with the music and let it send me in a delirious creative free fall and took notes as I spun. We got to have a buying trip to NYC in '92--WOW. I got to meet Girlina and Lasdy Bunny and all the voguing Queens--we were doing something totally different but Queens are trick everywhere aren't they.
I got involved because Stephan needed a Costume designer who could do everything: design, sew and wear--if necessary. I was working as one of a pair of male backup dancers (an "earring") for a drag-queen troupe called Glamourworld. I used to make all our costumes and we were pretty successful. We even toured Asia going to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Ho Chi Mihn city--all on DragOn Air. How funny is that?
What inspires you--what movies stand out to you as having great costumes?
It all goes in and just comes out this way. I don't consciously look for inspiration. I like to think of myself as a creative distillery.
If you could dress Oscar (of the Academy Awards) - what would you have him wear?
My Oscar was on display in Australia's National Gallery in an Exhibition called "The Sights and Sounds of Australian Film." Oscar had purple hair and a disco tube dress. I butchered a Rock and Roll Barbie. She didn't seem to mind 'cause Oscar looked roool perty!
Beyond The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
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Stills from The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert