Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Adventures of Priscilla

As those (aforementioned) New York Times memos lamented, there's an issue with the way gays are portrayed in film. Obviously, it's in the stereotypes.

Stereotype No. 1: They're fairy-sissy-boys or beer-swilling biker-dykes whose sole purpose is to provide some sort of punchline. Funny? Sometimes. Sometimes quite. Other times ... not so much. You can make fun of anything -- and I mean a-ny-thin-guh -- if you do it right. Too often it's not done right.

Stereotype No. 2: Unmentioned by NYT but still frustrating -- uber-tragic figures whose existences are so horrifically bleak that they might as well kill themselves (see: The Hours). Realistic? Almost certainly. But these character types exist across sexualities, races, economic statuses, etc. -- and almost always, they're painful to watch*.

*And not the rewarding kind of painful. Just the painful kind.

Kudos to films that avoid these. Films like Brokeback Mountain, which had the unfortunate flaw of being boring, or Milk, which had sympathetic characters but simply pathetic narrative and dialogue. One that hits it on all fronts, though, is The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, an Australian camp classic from 1994.

(Photo from the Sydney Morning Herald)

Priscilla is a bus. Its drivers/occupants are an Australian drag queen duo (Guy Pearce and Agent Smith himself, Hugo Weaving) and a bereved transsexual (Terence Stamp) who are heading from Sydney to remote Alice Springs for a show. The story's a little thin, but the trio (and the folks they meet along the way -- friendly or very unfriendly) keep things interesting most of the time. The dialogue is sharp. The Oscar-winning costumes are great ... and I'm not a bloke who cares much about costumes. And as a desert-lover, I'll never get tired of rocky, dry vistas.

But extra points because these characters never fall into neither gay stereotype category, despite the fact that they're clearly flaming and there's a lot of hate in that there Outback. They're instantly likable, even the obnoxious Pearce -- and not in a condescending, "Aren't those gay people cute?" kind of way. They're sad at times but never incomprehensibly depressing. They're, ya know, people.

Yes, that's right. Real characters, not stereotypes or stunts. What a concept! We'd be better served if all movie characters -- gay or straight or anything in between -- were like this.

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