Anyone who follows my column here at CLAUDIA knows my passion for musicals. I love the classics, but there is one, recently, that I have a special affection for. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. That’s because I was taking my first steps as a reporter and I was chosen to cover the release of a movie, which would have been a great opportunity, but fate wanted it to be more. By chance, like in the movies, I met the director, Stephen Elliottthe weekend we stumble upon without being planned.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of not only meeting two of the film’s actors, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce, in one intense week (and becoming everyone’s Cicero in Rio), but I’ve also been able to experience real first-hand film lessons, acting and theatre, three with entertaining and very inspiring conversations. I share my passion for soundtracks with Stefan, we spend hours talking about music and how it relates to film and he has taught me so many things. So when I found out he would be returning to the Festival for a special, remastered screening Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I could never help but share our conversation. He joked that I was an “original” to the group that created the hit motion picture (I wish). “1994 was year zero,” he explained. Here’s a little bit of our conversation.
CLAUDIA: How is it, almost 3 decades, to look back and see? Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? At the time, it was unusual to address the issues that we see in a film with drag and trans people leading the way.
Stefan: What I can see is that it was a glimpse that opened the door, but today the answer would be “no, you can’t do that anymore.” [o elenco tinha três atores héteros nos papéis principais]. But I was proud that Pride North America was re-released in theaters across the United States and that people were thrilled to learn that it was made almost 30 years ago. Unbelievable.
CLAUDIA: Priscilla it was your second feature, how was the experience?
Stefan: I wrote the original script in just 14 days. That was the first project. We made things up as we went along. To give you an idea, I’ll never forget this, there’s a scene in the movie where they’re staying at a fancy hotel that’s just been decorated with scary paintings in Broken Hill, Australia. There was a person from the tourism commission there, and I asked to take a look, but the representative of the commission interrupted me. “Oh, you don’t want to go in there. It’s terrible, it’s terrible. We don’t want our city to be remembered with that.” And I said “car. I will go in.’
CLAUDIA – What?
Stefan: He asked me. “Please don’t go in there. Please don’t go in there. The owner is mad.” And I went in and said. “Oh my God, this is incredibly scary. This is the worst place I have ever seen in my life. [pausa] We have to shoot here.” [risos] Well then, the hotel is now considered one of the main tourist attractions of the city Priscilla was successful. People from all over the world visit that place.
CLAUDIA: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert It was one of the great successes of the creative wave of Australian cinema in the early 1990s. What was it like to participate in this movement?
Stefan: People often ask if we sit down and plan together, and the truth is, we don’t. It wasn’t an afterthought. Before that, in Australia, in the 1970s and 1980s, they made many Americanized films. And interestingly enough, the only person on Earth who saw them all was Quentin Tarantino. [risos]. He’s a walking encyclopedia of all the Australian movies made from the 1970s to the 1980s that were horror movies that were just trying to be American movies. [risos] I’m a generation that includes Jane Campion, Baz Luhrmann, and others, and we all understand that if we keep trying to compete with the Americans, we’re going to lose. We kind of realized, very young, that the only way to survive is to be ourselves and all act at the same time. Priscilla, come dance with me, piano, Muriel’s wedding are some of the movies released close to each other. That’s why it feels like we sat in and out on purpose. But, no, we were all filming in different parts of Australia. We all basically had the idea that we had to be original.
CLAUDIA: When we spoke in 1994 PriscillaYou commented that the most famous scene, the one in the desert itself, which is the title, was almost cut. Do you remember a bit of this story?
Stefan: I’ll never forget it because it was my idea, but nothing came of it. We didn’t have a lot of money, and when the budget ran out, the producer called me and said: “Here we are playing with this. We don’t have much money. We don’t have time. You tried it and it turned out terrible. If you cut that scene, it won’t hurt the film in any way, the scene doesn’t say anything.” And I argued with him. “And that’s why it’s important. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s a leap of imagination. It’s so weird and it makes no sense, which is why I want to cast him in the movie.” [pausa] I admit it was an odd argument. [risos]. I asked them to trust me.
.CLAUDIA: And then?
Stefan: So God bless Tim [Chappel, um dos figurinistas que ganhou o Oscar por Priscilla, A Rainha do Deserto], who went to countless theaters of the country with his own money, collecting all the silver pieces he could. He set it all up in one night for the final attempt. And when we reached the desert, I will never forget, there was no wind. We painted and the fabric kept dragging on the floor. Nothing was working. I asked him to cut off the tail and we were going to film it as is to see if we could speed up the bus. As Tim literally grabbed the scissors and was about to cut off her tail, out of nowhere, the wind hit me and I just screamed “Recording!” The result is in the film.
CLAUDIA: An iconic movie moment.
Stefan: But imagine if the wind comes from the right. [risos] I still look back and remember that we were seconds away from giving it all up. Four minutes, three cameras. And it was a learning experience. it might even be a moment that doesn’t mean anything, but more movies should try to find something like that. Try something that’s just light and fun.
*Priscilla, A Rainha do Deserto is the highlight of the Rio Festival’s Saturday program in the Midnight Films session at the Cine Odeon. Tickets are on sale.