Well done for completing your prelim. I’m taking a quick look at them at the moment (some really interesting answers spotted already… and yes, I do mean ‘interesting’ in a good way!) and will be attacking them over the weekend.
For those who are worried about whether you have done well or not, don’t be. Prelims are about giving you the experience of sitting a formal exam as much as they are about giving you the opportunity to show off a bit. Or, in some cases, a lot.
To use a film analogy (and why not), the prelim is a Golden Globe compared to the final exam’s Oscar: it’s nice to get one, but everyone knows the Oscar is the one that matters. 😉
Thinking about the best way to revise? Me too. I keep having too many competing ideas and I confuse myself, so… in order to keep it simple, I’ve started breaking things down into parts. Let me illustrate with reference to Jaws (which might just about be my favourite film of all time… this week…)
Jaws belongs to more than one genre*. There. I’ve said it.
It is a horror film (a ‘monster’ killing innocent victims), it is a buddy movie (Matt Hooper and Chief Brody… Quint isn’t really their ‘buddy’!), a mainstream movie (the narrative is plot driven… there aren’t too many ‘arty’ shots!), a road movie (OK, so the road is an ocean, the car is a boat, and the road signs are buoys, but they do go somewhere and come back changed… [plot spoiler alert] well, most of them do, anyway)… and so on. [What others could you add to this list?]
The point is, the film crosses several genres, and each genre contributes a part to the whole so (for example):
the road movie (genre) helps give us a journey narrative arc/plot
the road movie (genre) gives us the narrative point about Chief Brody hating the sea, then not hating it… (I’ll come back to this one in a minute)
the horror film (genre) gives the film its need for a monster
the horror film (genre) gives us the attack on a helpless woman (opening sequence)
the horror film (genre) gives us monster p-o-v camera shots
the mainstream movie (genre) gives us straightforward story-telling with the camera
the buddy movie (genre) gives us the good natured banter between Hooper and Brody, e.g.:
Brody: I used to hate the water…
Hooper: I can’t imagine why.
And so on…
In short, expectations raised by the particular genres identified have contributed to, and influenced, the narrative structure, codes and conventions. (Think about it… if you go to see a romance, you expect there to be a happy ending where the boy finally gets the girl/boy of his or her dreams. In a monster movie, you expect the monster to be killed at the end. In a gangster movie, you expect the baddie to “get it” at the end…)
Similarly, thecodes and conventions of the genre are used to inform the language (Oh… look at that man dressed in black in the shadows there… do you think he could possibly be up to no good?) and the representation (Yep, he looks like a bit of a hero there with his white hat and cowboy shirt and gun and holster and jeans and… oh yes, he’s also only John Wayne — the manliest man ever to be called Marion!)
Taken together the codes and conventions of any given genre help to define the genre… and let us know some of the things to expect when we go to see a film… Want to see aliens, cool technology and/or time travel? No problems, you need sci-fi.
Looking for some suspense, tension and/or excitement? Try a thriller.
Want music, romance and/or comedy? Got just the thing in this musical!
There is one really important point to remember about genre. By definition, genre means we have specific expectations as an audience when we view an example of a particular genre… but the real joy comes when we have those expectations played with. When instead of the expected, we get the unexpected, the curve ball, the surprise that plays on our expectations.Mel Brooks did this with devastating effect by casting Cleavon Little as the black sheriff in his brilliant faux-western movieBlazing Saddles.
Now… over to you. How would you apply these ideas/thoughts to Priscilla? (Especially as you revise for your prelim!)
*PS: If you follow no other links, follow this one on genre.
Clarification: Just to fix any unintentional confusion I may have caused… we can consider the narrative arc of PQD, in which case you are 100% correct in saying the film follows a journey narrative (arc). This is exactly as you have been taught my Miss R…
This is distinct from Genre which is to do with the type of film/world in which the narrative is set. There are (of course) a few genres that PQD could sit in, but the one that has caused the potential confusion, is the genre of the road movie.
Quick recommendation: I’ve just finished readingCinematography 101 by Film School Online, and it’s an excellent, easy to read and understand, overview of the role of the cinematography in the film making process (It’s also a quick read… only 41 pages! 😉 ) . It covers the people, the technical considerations of film (and digital), lighting, and much else. The one downside is that it is a Kindle book and costs 99p…
I’ve bought it, so if you want to read it in class just ask and I’ll bring my Kindle in… but bear in mind, I have a Paperwhite (Thanks, Santa!) so the photos are all in Black & White which is a pain when discussing colour!
Some posts coming shortly on codes & conventions. Just writing them now. 🙂
As promised, here are Miss Robertson’s slides on PQD. I’ve changed the formatting slightly to give them a higher resolution (i.e.: easier to read the small print!) Any formatting mistakes are mine and mine alone! I’ll post my own slides on codes and conventions over the next few days… ASK QUESTIONS if you are unsure of anything!
I am immensely grateful to NathanSmith who has given me permission to reproduce his essay. I have made two slight edits to keep it suitable for the class blog!
The 20th anniversary of the iconic Australian road movie that took drag queens to the masses
For many Americans, Australian cinema will always begin and end with the 1980s Crocodile Dundee series. Because Australia has always suffered the obscurity of its location and cultural disconnect from other international cinema markets, the lure of the swaggering leather-faced Paul Hogan taking on America had the cross-international appeal to make Australian cinema global.
There are very few exceptions to this canon of crocodile hunters and the odd Mel Gibson flick, one of which was the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, The Queen of the Desert. The film concerns a band of rejects, queers, and drag queens who set out on the open road in the harsh and arid Australian outback to hitch up their skirts and get groovy to Gloria Gaynor all the while learning a lesson or two about themselves.
As you recall, The Adventures of Priscilla tells the story of two men, Adam (Guy Pearce) and Anthony (Hugo Weaving), and fellow transwoman traveller Bernadette (Terrence Stamp) on a trip to the center of Australia to perform in a drag queen residency show. Originally, Anthony is offered the job to perform in Alice Springs alone but recruits the rather icy Bernadette — who recently lost her partner — and the obnoxious Adam to join him on this road trip. Each character has, however, concealed some secret before their expedition and we see their epic travelling paralleling the percolating emotional problems of our respective heroes and heroines.
Priscilla, with its gaudy make-up, excessive sequins, and camp ’70s tunes defined a decade of Australian cinema and truly opened up the filmic reservoirs for more mainstream and positive representations of diverse LGBT folks on screen. After a successful musical theater revival, and in light of the film’s 20th-anniversary this year, it’s time to turn up the ABBA and return to this cult classic.
When the film first premiered, Priscilla was a welcome change from other queer texts, offering a more intimate and incautious account of one lovable band of queers from Sydney. Given the historical pathologization of the likes of gay men and transgendered individuals, the film offered a more intimate and dignified representation of this outcast crowd.
One of the reasons for the success of Priscilla was due to the fact that it was made in Australia. Although a distant continent from Europe and North America, Australia cinema capitalized on Australian characters heading abroad and had already generated alternative characters who thrive – somewhat comically, somewhat movingly — in their new homes abroad or new worlds (think Dundee). In the case of Priscilla, international audiences came to worship the extravagantly carnivalesque sights of two men and a transgender woman jettisoning across Australia’s dry and unforgiving deserts to bring the cosmopolitan cityscape to the countryside.
Any road trip film, whether queer or otherwise, offers its audience the promise of change, transition, and some type of momentous epiphany that we as viewers move along with during the screen time (both emotionally and with the film itself). Priscilla proves no different and has our hero/heroines involved in familiar and emotional suburban stories (meeting up with an estranged son or losing a partner) during their journey, while battling the unforgiving and unaccepting homophobic and transphobic communities across the Australian landscape.
As for context, the 1990s offered a time of (brief) relief for the queer community, as the devastating costs of the HIV/AIDS epidemic momentarily subsided in the wake of developments in anti-retroviral medication and the growing acceptance of gay men and trans folks. It was a time for recollection and a return to the camp and dated indulgences of the liberated and promising 1970s that the AIDS epidemic so brutally stole from the LGBT community during a decade plagued by stigma and shame.
While the film avoids any detailed and direct discussion of HIV/AIDS in gay communities, it does importantly remind audiences of the lingering impact of the crisis when we see the eponymous “Priscilla” mobile home graffitied with the tag “AIDS F******S GO HOME” during one unsuccessful stay in a small country town. But in true gay liberation style, the bus is rebranded with a luscious pink lick of paint and proudly journeys onwards.
This is why Priscilla so wonderfully and so aggressively worked in the 1990s and succeeded in showing us the trauma and strength that the rich gay male (drag queen or otherwise) culture can offer for the transcendence and psychic relief from the pain of daily stigmatised life. There are times when we should simply celebrate and embrace the awfulness of our pop culture histories — and spinning around in heels to ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” (before the Meryl musical) is just one way to do so.
Rewatching the original trailer alone aligns Anthony, Adam, and Bernadette with 1940s Hollywood film genres around stars, classic Hollywood cinema, and the glamorous camera “close up.” Between lip-synching sessions of Alicia Bridge’s seminally ’70s song “I Love the Nightlife” and Vanessa Williams’ melodically uplifting “Save the Best for Last,” the queens of Priscilla exploit the camp potential in their performances while importantly underscoring the loneliness and isolation their colourful careers bring.
In reassessing the film for its 20th anniversary, however, one does see the problematic racial and sexual politics operating in Australia at this time. Scenes where we see characters ironize the coquetry of ’90s video store culture — such as flirting with the attendant about the availability of The Texas Chainsaw Mas-cara — are satisfying in their campness. But other moments are riddled with racism, especially concerning the non-white figures of the film.
Although gay men and transgendered individuals have suffered the stigma of the heterosexual society at large, the three character’s whiteness is a fact taken for granted. Their sexual and gender orientations are what lead to their pathologization and brutal homophobic and transphobic battles across Australia.
Commentators on existing gay communities and gay culture at large have pointed out its overwhelming whiteness — that is, gay communities and cultures are mostly defined by white men enjoying the company of other white men, seeking to their rights of marriage, equality, and social equity. While this is a longer dialogue to be had elsewhere, it is important to see that the film Priscilla is no different from other “gay films” that continued to marginalize other races, despite these queers facing their own stigma and shame throughout the course of their journey.
Women fare no better, and although we see song after song by a woman sung or imitated by the likes of Vanessa Williams or the ABBA idols during their cross-country trip, the actual women they encounter are painted with an excessively patriarchal brush. One woman in particular, Cynthia, is a Filipino woman who is portrayed with negative stereotypes many white Westerns hold of Asian women: She’s a mail-order bride because she offers her straight, swaggering husband sex and domesticity. In one memorable scene, she [performs] (while winking at the camera, no less) …to a crowd of drunken and crude applauding men at the pub… (that scene has been recreated in the stage show, without much complaint).
Women in Priscilla seemed threatened by the presence of two men imitating women and one transwoman (who transitioned from male to female) when they enter their town’s public spaces. In a terrifying moment, we see Bernadette cut down by one thunderously butch woman who abuses them and orders the drag crew to leave the local bar. However, not before long, in a terrifically bizarre turn of events, we see Bernadette and the woman enter a drinking contest with her while a raucous of straight men in the pub cheer on the defiant Bernadette to a victorious end.
This is only one of many of their encounters during their journey into the Australian outback and although these “meets” and “stop-offs” work with the road trip template, and suggest the maturing growth of our heroes/heroines, they do not fare well on those folks who are defined purely for their sexuality or their value as validating existing stereotypes. Whether or not the females or racially diverse counterparts should have been represented more complexly and intimately is perhaps a discussion to be continued elsewhere.
Years later, Priscilla spawned a successful theater and Broadway revival that has received universal acclaim for its glamour, gaudiness, and sheer gayness. (So much so, Bette Midler was one of the producers of the 2011 Broadway season.) This speaks volumes to the impact this little Australian LGBT movie has had across a diverse number of artistic mediums — theater, music, and ultimately cinema (with the American equivalent to it To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar made a year later, in 1995).
Unreservedly, Priscilla’s attempt to mainstream the lives of LGBT figures who work within an underrepresented industry and live in an underprivileged and shamed underclass, is an earnest and significant one. The fact that the film has endured for 20 years and still continues to have a high circulation value as a “cult classic” in gay male subcultures (whether through the soundtrack, the Broadway show, or even just the film itself) speaks to its importance as a text that attempted to represent more authentically bisexual, gay, and transgender stories to an audiences that were mostly unfamiliar to these plights.
While there has been a chorus of cries that the richness of gay male culture is on its way out since gay bars are no longer as popular as they used to be, or that gay idols are speaking to directly to gay causes and no longer through subtext (Lady Gaga, anyone?), Priscilla’s endurance speaks against this proclamation. Although the film represents only one aspect of gay culture — drag queen life, Donna Summer songs, and the sowing and stitching of sequins — its success during the last twenty years has only underscored the desire audiences have had to savour the campness and queen-ness that excess, nostalgia, and drag queens can provide.
Nathan Smith is an MA student at the University of Melbourne Australia, specializing in queer and cinema studies. His work has been published in Salon, The Advocate, and Out. Nathan can be found tweeting @nathansmithr
The original essay was published in Out magazine: 10/10/14