PQD – Representation

Just a quickie about representation in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (dir: Stephan Elliott, Australia, 1994) (PQD).

Three main characters represent different faces of LGBT. Remember the CONTEXT… 1994 attitudes to LGBT people and issues was markedly different to todays. As such, the characters of Tick, Adam and Bernadette (Bernice/Ralph) are portrayed slightly differently from how they might be represented today. Also, a 1994 audience would react differently…


For a 1994 audience, Adam (Guy Pearce) represents the stereotype of the ‘bitchy queen’. He is young, brash — almost aggressive, in your face, full of life and unashamedly gay. He is also quite immature and acts without thinking. He is cynical and uses people (even family… think about how he manages to get ‘Priscilla’). The justification we are shown in the film (it is implied) is that he was abused by his uncle…

It is Adam who ‘sings’ on the top of Priscilla as she drives across the outback… and the lyrics give an insight into Adam’s hedonistic (Ooooo… Big word… Look it up!) approach to life. Here it is from a production of La Traviata with English subtitles…


Bernadette (Terence Stamp) is transgender (male to female). She is portrayed as the mature and smart one (Think Levi-Strauss and binary opposite of Adam, perhaps). While quiet and reflective and hating ‘bloody ABBA’, Bernadette is also the character who appears to find love on the road trip.

Bernadette is the voice of experience. The one who helps get the others out of a pickle as required (mainly Adam!)…  For the 1994 audience, the notion of someone being transgender would be even more unusual than simply being gay… so how do you think the audience would react to this intelligent, witty and funny woman who challenges their preconceptions… and don’t forget, casting Terence Stamp was a masterstroke in making the film sellable outside Australia. Here he is talking (briefly) about Priscilla and the importance of the film to him.

Did you take much persuading to perform in drag for The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert?

It wasn’t something I’d have ever considered really. I thought it was a joke, but a woman friend of mine just happened to be present when I was getting calls from my agent about the script and she pointed out to me in a very incisive way that my fear was out of all proportion to the possible consequences. That’s the thing about fear: you’re only really subject to it as long as you don’t spot it. It’s not easy to realise when you’re turning down things from fear or genuine discernment.

She said, “Look, just say yes and maybe it will go away. And if it doesn’t, you’ll just have to address the fear.” And then she said this wonderful thing: “Terence, this is not a career move, this is a growth move.” So it was a challenge, a challenge I couldn’t resist because [otherwise] my life would have been a lie.

But it wasn’t a fun thing, or anything I was looking forward to. It was, “F*ck me, this is the last thing in the world I want to do: be in f*cking Australia with paparazzi.” It was like a nightmare. But it was only when I got there, and got through the fear, that it became one of the great experiences of my whole career. It was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life.

from: BFI interview


Tick (Hugo Weaving) is the heart of the film. The central narrative (Classic Holywood: disruption followed by quest/journey to find resolution/equilibrium) revolves around Tick’s need to travel to Alice Springs to meet his son. The fear he carries is how his son will react to having a gay father.

In terms of representation, Tick is portrayed as being gay, but more importantly for the 1994 audiences, he has a vulnerability that endears him. He is scared and worried about how his son will view him, and this means he becomes more than just a gay stereotype… he becomes a parent and that is something audiences can relate to.

Remember Stephan Elliott is trying to convey a message that LGBT people are people like everyone else. They have hopes and fears just like the rest of us. The genius is that Elliott makes great and clever uses of codes and conventions to convey aspects of Tick’s character (and thus representations)… he is a drag queen, he appears ‘camp’ on the bus, there is the very funny paradox when he is told he is a dad:

On the one hand, we have a drag queen in a ridiculously over-the-top dress/creation which represents the gay/LGBT nature of the character… contrasted with the heterosexual/male norm of lighting a cigar when you become a father… Can anyone say paradox?

Tick is the guide for the audience. He becomes the acceptable representation of ‘gay’. He is funny, caring, has a son, and generally tries to keep out of trouble. Like Bernadette, Tick is quite happy living the quiet life: think of the scene in Coober Pedy when Tick and Bernice are having a civilised discussion over a meal. This would tell an audience that LGBT people have similar hopes and fears and experiences to ‘straight’ people… yet Tick can also unleash an extrovert gay side especially when drink/Adam are involved.

The key scene with regards Tick and representation comes when he is alone with his son at the picnic. He is dressed to try and look like the stereotypical conventional rugged outdoor barbecue and beer loving Aussie man. Yet the humour comes because his clothes look as though they are brand new, and look how uncomfortably he is standing…

Watch the scene, and think what image is he trying to project, why, and how would it be received by (in the film) his son… and more importantly, by the 1994 audience?

If you are on the ball, you’ll realise it would go a long way to helping change the audiences’ opinions of LGBT.

That should be enough to point you in the right direction… I’ll try to add more if time allows, but you need to relax.

If time allows, watch Priscilla one last time tonight, and watch the Panorama on hacking. Other than that, get some sleep!


PQD Key Aspects

Here’s the PQD document we’re currently using in class for revision (PDF). I’ll post a more detailed explanation/application for the exam process for you after we’ve been through it on Wednesday. In the meantime, if you recall how I was pulling apart/teasing out the Broken Hill bar (Shirley) scene, you should consider doing something similar with other important scenes in the film.

Suggestions include:

  • Coober Pedy The drinking club (Adam after taking drugs)
  • The First People (Aborigines) camp
  • Kings Canyon
  • The charades ‘picnic’
  • Opening AND closing sequences
  • Broken Hill (Shirley)
  • Desert opera (Lyrics and explanation of relevance of the aria here Sempre Libera – for info, we only hear the first verse sung by Violetta)

There are, of course plenty of others you could look at. 🙂

Finally, there’s a really useful little synopsis and overview (short, but nothing wrong with that) that hints at the depth of the film. You can find it here: Curator’s Notes.

Almost forgot… click the pic for the full slides for Priscilla.

Click the sun for the notes…

Institution (Waltz?)

Obscure prog rock reference aside, I’ve just had a query about Institution and PQD.

Most of the information you need is on the slides, but for clarity, the most important things to remember are:

Stamp PQD PriscillaCasting: Terence Stamp (Wikipedia, IMDB, Guardian interview) would have appealed to an international audience as the big ‘name’ in the cast.

Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Bill Hunter would appeal to the home Australian audience… (Incidentally, click through on the links, especially Bill Hunter’s as it’s an interview from 1994 so fits in nicely with society… and also how casting can work)

Get the casting right, you pull in an audience, your film makes money… or more importantly, your message gains an audience…

Production: What would have been the challenges of producing PQD? Especially at that point in history and against the prevailing social background (fear of AIDS, homosexuality was still frowned upon, and so forth)… would it have been easy to get the necessary finance for the film without the likes of Stamp/Hunter on board?

Look at the respective credits for the two main producers, Al Clark and Michael Hamlyn. One has a background in drama (including the critically acclaimed adaptation of 1984), the other is known for music videos… how might these backgrounds have helped producing PQD?

The production companies involved include the New South Wales Film & Television Office who have a specific remit to promote film-making and as such help subsidise ‘edgier’ subject matter.

Marketing: Look again at the 5 posters for the film included in the slides… can you see how each is designed to appeal to a different audience (mostly through the choice of anchorage — either quotes form reviews, or specific blurbs). This is all part of creating a ‘buzz’ around the film, and so encouraging people to want to go and see it.

Finally… read this Guardian article about the 20th Anniversary of Priscilla. It contains this rather useful paragraph that neatly sums up PQD’s main message and why the film was so important:

“That’s just what his country needs,” Bernadette scoffs. “A cock in a frock on a rock.” And, actually, that was just what the country needed: an intelligent and entertaining Australian film that embraces LGBT culture without turning turning a quintessentially personal story into an exercise in outrage-pedalling and button-pushing.

Being realistic, Institution is unlikely to be the stem for Q1, but if you swot up on the above, you would be able to tackle it if it did. 🙂

PS: Don’t overlook the money

PPS: Check your spelling!

  • Stephan Elliott
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (PQD)
  • 1994
  • Australia

PPPS: The aria is called Sempre Libera, it’s from Verdi’s La Traviata and the translation of the lyrics is as follows:

Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life’s path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.

Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
mysterious, altering,
the torment and delight of my heart.

Oh! Oh! Love!
Madness! Euphoria!

If that doesn’t sum up Adam/Felicia/Guy Pearce’s character, then what does! 😉

PPPPS: Can you tell I’m going OTT as I want you all to do well?

PQD Revised Slides

Just a quick update for you…

Here is a revised and updated set of slides giving an overview of PQD. In particular, I’ve added an expanded slide on the GENRE conventions of the road movie which is recommended for revision.

As we discussed this morning, it’s important you remember the Society side of PQD… consider what came before it (Mad Max/Crocodile Dundee), and how it may have been received. (It is Media in Context, after all!)

Finally, it’s a PDF, so you should be able to click on the URLs to see the clips. 🙂

Go on… click it! You know you want to! 😉


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!

PS: Remember there is a download link for the Powerpoint files at the bottom of this post… it includes all the URLs as clickable links.
ASK QUESTIONS if you are unsure of anything!

PQD Overview (PPTX)

PQD Overview (Keynote File)

Priscilla Revision Part 2

Here is my take on the revision questions I posted yesterday. I’ve filled in some ideas thoughts in the 4th column that should help you and point you in the right direction for adding more.

What I would highly recommend (i.e.: DO IT!) is picking specific scenes/sequences/shots to illustrate the various points made. Yes, it’ll mean a fair amount of work, but it’s what you are meant to do!

Enjoy… and here’s the file:

PDF Icon
Click the icon to download!


Priscilla Revision and Prompts

PDF IconHere’s a quick Priscilla revision prompt sheet. (Click to Download – PDF). There are three columns to cover: Key Aspect, Sub-Elements, and a wee explanation.

What I recommend you attempt is to take the third column as a series of revision prompts. What would you say about each one with regards PQD? In order to help you with this, I’ve also included a WORD IconWord version (Click Here to download – Priscilla Revision) with a fourth column that you can fill in. (It should open in Open Office/Pages/Sun Office/whatever you have… if not, leave a comment and I’ll sort something out)

I’ll leave it with you to work on for now.

I’ll be busy this afternoon, but will post more this evening all going well. 🙂


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

PQD Overview.031

PQD Overview.032

PQD Overview.033This 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.

PQD Desert RoadMuch more to follow 😉

PQD Revision: Miss Robertson’s Slides

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!

PQD Overview (PPTX)

PQD Overview (Keynote File)