(On DVD, August 2010) I realize that I’m fifteen years behind the rest of the world in (finally) seeing this charming Australian comedy, but then again you would be horrified at some of the other curious omissions in my personal film-viewing record. Suffice to say that hindsight has advantages of its own: It’s hard to see The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert now without spotting Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp in fearless performances that are remarkably different from the kind of roles for which they have become best known. (Go ahead; make a joke about Agent Smith in drag: “Mis-ter An-der-son, you look… fabulous”.) The film itself has aged remarkably well: While social attitudes toward queer issues represented in this film have hopefully evolved, the exuberant quality of the characters does a lot to bring audiences into their colourful reality. By the end, the film reaches a quasi-idyllic acceptance that acts as inspiration. But social issues aren’t the reason why the film has become such a self-confident camp classic: You just have to look at the astonishing visuals of a scene in which a bus drives across the desert featuring a rooftop performance by a drag queen draped in long billowing silver drapes to realize how awe-inspiring this film can be. The Australian outback makes for a spectacular background, and the script deftly moves between emotional tones without losing track of its goals. It’s all very impressive, and you don’t have to be interested in LGBT issues to appreciate the cinematography, the script or the fun of the bus ride.
(On DVD, August 2010) Something really strange happened to me during Walkabout: As the initial look at the metropolitan bustle of early-seventies urban Australia became a surrealistic outback reverie, I started dreading the rest of the movie: I don’t respond well to non-narrative films, and the idea of spending another hour and a half in a daze of dream-like images held a limited appeal. It got worse as the bare essential of the plot were carelessly established: a female teenager and her kid brother, stranded in the Australian outback. Narratively, the film never holds up: characters act in painfully unrealistic ways, the visual and thematic strangeness of the film undercutting any serious attempt at establishing narrative tension as they float from one situation to another with nonsensical dialogue that never reflects the danger of their situation. But that’s when the strangeness occurred, because rather than fight the film for what it wasn’t trying to do, I let myself slip into the oneiric state of mind best suited to appreciate the incredible cinematography, symbolism and atmosphere of the film. It’s not about two kids returning to civilization thanks to the help of an aborigine teen: It’s about superb pictures, meditations upon nature versus civilization, teenage sexuality, the impossibility to communicate, the way we’re set in our own limitations and the longing for rites of passage. At least that’s what I got out of it, in-between the film’s often-surprising non-sequiturs and often-audacious editing. What does it mean? You tell me, in between excerpts of a meteorologist sex comedy, in-your-face juxtaposition, page-flipping, moody skin-bathing, suicidal characters, animals harmed during the making of this film and a coda that almost wraps everything together. Some reviews of the film will promise you that no one who ever saw Walkabout ever forgot about it and this, for once, doesn’t feel like hype: In the state of mind created by the film, I gasped aloud at two particularly striking shots and couldn’t help but marvel at the impeccable depiction of the Australian Outback wildlife. If the preachiness of the film hasn’t aged very well, its impeccable images and Jenny Agutter’s performance as a teenage girl have stood the test of time. It’s a very zen-like film: don’t expect it to make sense and it just may start doing so.