“It was Apocalypse Now in drag,” says writer-director Stephan Elliott, in a making-of documentary on the Extra Frills DVD of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. That’s a decent summary of this oddball crowd-pleaser about three drag performers (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp) touring the Australian outback in costumes that look like what Cher would wear to the Oscars on Mars. The film’s thrift-shop aesthetic draws on musicals, farces, melodramas, Westerns, even sci-fi pictures (the helicopter shots of the finery-clad trio scaling mountains are very Fifth Element).
The extras (which first appeared on a 2004 Australian DVD that wouldn’t play in Region I machines) chart the movie’s difficult production and unexpected rise to cult-classic status.
Elliott says he was moved to write Priscilla at a gay pride parade, where he saw a feather break off a drag queen’s costume and twirl down the street like a tumbleweed. We also learn that Stamp got offered the career-redefining role of an aging transsexual mourning a young lover’s death right after telling his agent he was quitting acting because he was sick of playing bad guys. And those Oscar-winning costumes were made with material bought at a Kmart that employed the mom of one of the film’s costume designers. (Total cost: $5,000. It would have been higher without the employee discount.)—Matt Zoller Seitz