"No more f*cking ABBA!"

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

This week I saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the stage musical version of the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, for the second time.

I first saw Priscilla not long after it premiered in Sydney in October last year. It was interesting to see the show again. There have been some cuts in dialogue and music, which tightens up the story.

The show is very funny, with the best moments and lines from the movie, and more faaaaaaaaaabulous songs along with some of those that featured in the film. Priscilla will be playing in Sydney until late September, and will then move to Melbourne, opening in October.

As I’m sure you know, there were many ABBA references in the movie, including Bernadette’s infamous interjection quoted as the title of this post, the controversial “ABBA turd”, and the “grand finale” featuring a performance of ‘Mamma Mia’ by Mitzi and Felicia.

The stage version removes all references to ABBA. Some of the dialogue references have been changed to Kylie Minogue (and a couple of her songs are included) while others are simply gone from the storyline.

The producers have said that there were “international rights issues” that stopped them from using the ABBA songs, but it’s more than likely that permission wasn’t given because ABBA’s songs are in their own musical Mamma Mia!

These changes actually makes sense for today’s audience. When the movie was filmed, ABBA was extremely popular in the gay community, with the ABBA revival of the 1990s dating back to ABBA theme nights in gay clubs in the late ’80s.

But to a new generation of young gay men, Kylie has taken the place that ABBA once held (especially since the revival of her own career with 2000’s Light Years CD). Someone of Adam/Felicia’s age is more likely to be a life-long Kylie devotee than an ABBA fan.

So Bernadette’s wish in the movie for “no more fucking ABBA” has, in the stage version, finally come true!


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6 Responses to “"No more f*cking ABBA!"”

  1. Ian Cole Says:

    The 7th Annual Helpmann Awards for Live Performance Australia were held last night at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. Priscilla was nominated for seven awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Supporting Male and Female Actors in a Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Costume Design, only winning the Costume category. Priscilla closes in Sydney on 2 September, with previews opening in Melbourne on 28 September.

  2. Ryan Cameron Says:

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks very much for you comments on my blog about my post praising the cast album for the Priscilla stage show.

    It sounds like a great show and I hope I will get a chance to see it sometime in the next year or two. Thanks for letting me know about the plans for where the show will be playing in the next couple of years.

    In any case, a recent viewing of the film is leaving me with a desire to see Muriel’s Wedding again as well before embarking on the theatrical release of Mamma Mia. Even if the stage Priscilla has excised its ABBA references (and I do agree I’m sure it’s at the hands of Björn and Benny denying permission due to Mamma Mia being such a success in its own right), its still going to be a fun year of ABBA for me with Priscilla and Muriel getting viewings for the first time in ages.

    One of the things I like about the Priscilla musical, even though I still have yet to see it, is that it is possible to construct a musical from existing pop songs from a variety of sources, not just a single group or set of songwriters, and have it be well received by audiences. But it serves as another avenue to promote great songs. At least with Priscilla the adaption to the stage almost seemed inevitable with the theatrical nature of the film.

    I have seen a couple of the Priscilla ping pong balls up on eBay, so I can only imagine how they’ve made that work on stage. I bet it gets lots of laughs.

  3. Samuel Inglles Says:

    Hi Ian

    Here’s some ‘Priscilla’articles from 1994.

    Kind Regards
    Samuel Inglles

    New Idea – 3 September 1994 (Page 39)

    Desert Queen: Terence Stamp finds wearing a wig and fishnets in 44°C heat is a real drag. By Marcelle Katz

    When director Stephen Elliot was casting his cult movie ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, he did not hesitate. Terence Stamp would play transsexual Bernadette.

    Nothing has prepared the fine British actor for this, but the Australian director and cast were so enthusiastic, he could not refuse.

    The movie, opening in Australia on September 8, was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival and received a screaming, standing ovation in San Francisco.

    ‘Priscilla’ is about three friends – two drag queens and a transsexual – who travel the Outback in a cabaret. Locations included Sydney, Broken Hill, Coober Pedy and Alice Springs.

    Terence admits there were times when he was terrified. He says: “I was dressed in a garish costume, performing a camp cabaret in a pub in Broken Hill, with extras who were really miners in the town. I didn’t want to come out of the caravan. It was horrifying, but Guy Pearce saved us from derision. These tough guys in the pub would just calmly say, ‘Oh, it’s Guy Pearce in a frock. Hello Guy.’ He’s beyond question, he’s so heterosexual. I used to hang out with him a lot.”

    In contrast, co-star Hugo Weaving felt so comfortable in drag he even wore it home – to the consternation of children Harry, 5, and Holly, 20 months. Harry’s first reaction was to hide.

    “He didn’t want me to touch or hug him at all,” Hugo says. “He ordered me to take my wig off, but when I did, he said, “Ooh, you look worse. Put it back on, Dad.’ ”

    As temperatures soared, Terence longed for some cool relief, especially when he was in costume. “It was hot. So very hot,” he says. “We sometimes had to drive nine hours to get anywhere. It was 44°C and I was dressed in fishnet stockings and a wig. But the heat was nothing compared to the flies.”

    Terence had a simple formula for his breasts – balloons filled with water. After a few trials he discovered that condoms worked better. Every time Hugo embraced him, however, they tended to burst. “It was not funny,” Terence says. “But what was amusing was the reaction of the Aborigines. They’d see me, Terence, go into the makeup wagon. And two hours later they’d see this elegant woman come out. After much staring and chattering, I would go up to them and pull out my false bosom. The younger generation thought it was hysterical, but the older women were really perplexed.”

    Photos: (1) Terence Stamp… “I didn’t want to come out of the caravan.” (2) Even their best friends would not recognise Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce in the flamboyant costumes they wear for an Outback tour. Hugo had an uncertain reaction from son Harry, who declined to be hugged.

    The Village Voice – 6 September 1994 (Page 10)

    La Dolce Musto. By Michael Musto

    Folks claiming to represent the American branch of the official ABBA fan club are boycotting ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’, and the whole world is trembling, girl. At issue is that, as an act of worship, one of the film’s three drag characters carries around a vial containing an “ABBA turd”–or ABBA-dabba-doo-doo, as it were. Talk about vial. “It’s disgusting and disrespectful,” the club’s horrified spokesman told me. “We aren’t buying it and we’re not seeing it!” Or doing anything else with it, for that matter. The scene deeply offended me too, but only because it seemed ripped off from ‘Slacker’, in which a Generation Ecch-er prances about with a tube supposedly containing Madonna’s pap smear test (I’m not buying that either–I can’t afford it). Sticky fingers ‘Priscilla’ also lifts a line from ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ – “There are two things I like about you–your face,” though that’s possibly intended as homage more than frottage.

    Who Weekly – 12 September 1994 (Page 27)

    Life’s no drag for the costume designers behind Priscilla. By Michael Fitzerald

    In the adventures of ‘Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, a film splitting at its sequined seams with colour and movement as two drag queens and an ageing transsexual traverse the Australian outback, it’s difficult to know where to look first. There’s 1960s British movie idol Terence Stamp as the queenly coiffed Bernadette, gliding through the desert dust like a vision splendid. There’s Hugo Weaving on a mountain precipice gallivanting to the strains of Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem ‘I Will Survive’. And then there’s ex-‘Neighbours’ teen idol Guy Pearce camping it up in Versace rip-offs in the aisle of ‘Priscilla’, their lavender-coloured bus. But despite the stars’ look-at-me antics, New York critic Janet Maslin singled out ‘Priscilla’s’ rookie costume-design team, Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, for honours. The pair, she wrote in ‘The New York Times’, “are among this film’s true stars”.

    With tassels on. For the movie’s seven-week shoot last year, writer-director Stephan Elliot (‘Frauds’) “was just going, ‘Ahhh, go for it! Bigger, bigger! More, more!’ ” recalls Chappel, 26, Gardiner’s former design assistant on the now-defunct TV soapie ‘E Street’. “So we did.” Indeed, their 38 kitsch couture creations – ranging from Weaving’s 1960s Paco Rabanne-inspired thong dress to Australiana headdresses worn by the trio for their Alice Springs swansong – are truly a sight to behold. “The picture is fundamentally a visual joke in which you put people in costumes that clash with their environment,” explains co-producer Al Clark. “And they understood that premise from the start and stretched it to the very edge of the abyss.”

    And right over the top, too. “Inspiration is just pure imagination,” says Gardiner, 27, who was first approached about plans for ‘Priscilla’ by Elliot, a long-time friend, while he was filming ‘Frauds’ in 1992, “and ‘Priscilla’ is imagination in its purest form.” With a minimal, $15,000 wardrobe budget, it had to be. For “an ideas frenzy”, the pair paid their own way to New York (“the world’s largest drag supermarket” according to Chappel) and then raided discount-fabric wholesalers in Sydney for items such as 250 metres of silver lamé. They hired a costume department of three (Emily Seresin, Brett Cooper and Adam Dali) before hitting the road for filming, from Sydney to Alice Springs via Broken Hill and Coober Pedy last September, armed with their glittering treasures, a sewing machine and a hot glue-gun (which “holds anything to anything”, explains Chappel).

    It was then, like in the film, that things got really interesting. “It was the most fabulous fun,” says Gardiner. “But there were moments when it was outrageously stressful.” With soaring temperatures and a workroom aboard a bus, right above the engine, the first casualties were their beloved ideas of toast-and live-seafood-platter dresses; others literally wilted at the seams. Hardier were their emu headdresses, which were co-opted by the crew for use as golf clubs and cricket bats. Terence Stamp’s celluloid bust, made of water-filled condoms, suffered a different fate. One night their design stock of latex inexplicably vanished. “So we had to put a note in the call sheet the next day saying, “All those who have stolen Terence’s titties, please return them,’ “ recalls Chappel, and the stock was recovered. Even so, “the goddess of drag was smiling down upon us most of the time,” says Gardiner.

    The goddess has stayed with the seamless duo, who in May travelled to the Cannes Film Festival, where ‘Priscilla’ received a four minute standing ovation and the Audience Award for Most Popular Film. “It was just like madness, absolute madness. We ended up in a drag bar until seven in the morning,” says Gardiner who, with Chappel, is up for an Australian Film Institute Best Achievement in Costume Design award in November. They’ve also visited the U.S., where ‘Priscilla’ opened on August 10 to rapturous reviews and a booming box office (it opens here on September 8), hobnobbing with the likes of K.D. Lang and Calvin and Kelly Klein. Not that such success is likely to go to their heads. “It’s fantastic but, at the end of the day, I’d much rather be working,” says Chappel.

    But despite Hollywood interest (they both now have LA management), Gardiner and Chappel aren’t about to give their home town the flick. “That’s the amazing thing about Sydney,” says Chappel, contemplating the harbour vista from Gardiner’s rented eastern-suburbs pad. “Sequins sparkle much brighter [here].”

    The eldest of three children raised in Western Melbourne by Department of Social Security employee Murray and Target sales assistant Diane (“We got a staff discount for the thong dress”), Chappel has whipped up frocks for Sydney’s best-known drag artistes since his early days working behind the bar of Paddington’s Albury Hotel, which stages drag shows, while studying fashion design at the Sydney College of the Arts. Gardiner was born in Dubbo (“it definitely gees you a twisted sense of humour”), the youngest of entrepreneur Tony and motelier Gay’s family of three, and studied costume design in Florence. Working with fantasy of a different sort on the set of ‘E Street’, she hired Chappel as her off-sider in 1989, carrying their creative partnership over to ‘Priscilla’, their first feature film together.

    Both single, they share a free-flowing rapport. “Sometimes I wake up and think we are the same person,” sys Chappel. Fashionably attuned onscreen, they watch what they wear off-set. “I’m having a love affair with cream,” says Chappel, dressed in a navy singlet and gym shorts (“I was wearing Versace earlier on”), while Gardiner has chosen a cling-tight Betsy Johnson dress and black, over-the-knee socks today. Says Chappel: “She’s a foxy dresser.”

    Together they’re now angling for Hollywood. “That door certainly has been opened,” says Gardiner. “Before it was a lifetime of television commercials.” But as to life after ‘Priscilla’, “it’s difficult to imagine much work in Merchant Ivory films,” says Al Clark, “but they’re both so resilient and so imaginative that great things will follow.” Besides, quips Chapel, “we look so good together. Hard on the pocket, easy on the eye.”

    Photos: (1) Stars Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving in ‘Priscilla’s’ flashy finale. (2) ”You enjoy all the glamour,” says Lizzy Gardiner (glamming it up with Tim Chappel) of their ‘Priscilla’ success, “but you see it for what it is… sparkle and front.”
    (3, 4, 5 & 6) Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving (undergoing Cinderella-like metamorphosis at the hands of, from top, ‘Priscilla’ hair-and make-up designers Strykermeyer, Cassie Hanlon and Angela Conte) “were pretty good”, says Gardiner. “I mean, some of those costumes are actually physically painful.” Adds Chappel: “Well, let’s just say on a $15,000 budget there’s not much room for lining. They were just very scratchy.” (7) The frill-necked stars at full-throttle: They’re men who dance around miming the words to other people’s songs,” says Chappel. “So they can’t take themselves too seriously.” (8) Pearce, Stamp and Weaving on location. “Guy [plays] the inner-city scene queen, Hugo’s the confused artist and Terence is the sad, jaded old drag queen,” explains Gardiner. (9) “His ability to mime is astonishing,” Gardiner says of Weaving, getting headdress direction from Stephan Elliot. “He brings an extra dimension to drag,” says Chappel. “He emotes beautifully.” (10) The stars stride off into another golden sunset. “At the end of the day,” says Gardiner, [drag] is just fun and, boy, did we have fun.”

    Who Weekly – 12 September 1994 (Page 96)

    ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’. By Margot Dougherty

    Starring: Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter.

    ‘Speed’ is one kind of bus movie, ‘Priscilla’ is another. Close your eyes and imagine Hugo Weaving in stilettos, a skin tight sequined dress, hideous blue eye make-up and sparkle lips mouthing the words to ABBA songs; think of him doing his act in a Gumby-inspired pant suit with a halter top, backed by a didgeridoo at an outback corroboree. You still won’t be able to top the real thing.

    Weaving plays Tick, a drag queen bussing his way from Sydney across the interior to meet up with his diversified past – a wife and a son. Along for the ride are his finely frocked and feathered friends Bernadette (Stamp), a tasteful transsexual with a French manicure and good left hook who is in mourning for a boyfriend who died from peroxide fumes while “doing his hair at home again”, and Felicia (Pearce), a loudmouth boy toy who wears an ostrich boa and heels while sizzling snags for a roadside repast.

    The boys are high-style p- -formers, and when their custom-interior (sewing machine, zebra skins, minibar) hot pink hand-me-down bus loses its kick (Keanu’s couldn’t go bellow 80km/h; theirs stand little chance of getting near it), they roll into offbeat rural towns and emerge in their get-ups-a rubber-thong minidress, a hot pink wig, little purses – to varying degrees of welcome. Bob (Hunter), a nice-guy redneck with a ping-pong pro of a wife, becomes a special friend.

    Director Stephan Elliot (‘Frauds’) takes camp up and over the top, but keeps it well within the public domain. Apart from clever dialogue (“Just what I always wanted to be,” mumbles Bernadette. “A *ock in a frock on the Rock”), slick sight gags (a breakfast of Froot Loops in the desert), idiosyncratic use of spectacular scenery (the closing shot in particular) and outrageous costumes that are stars in themselves (emu head-dresses complete with beaks), Elliot has filled his movie with plenty of warmth and heart. Under all the glam and glitter, it is a fusion of sweet and simple love stories – with a pulsating disco soundtrack. (M) Grade: A+

  4. Samuel Inglles Says:

    Herald Sun
    September 28, 2008
    Second time lucky for Jason Donavon. By Fiona Byrne

    Interesting to hear Jason Donovan has signed on for a lead role in the London stage production of ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.
    Donovan, in his autobiography ‘Between The Lines’, says he was considered for the role of Felicia Jollygoodfellow in the film.

    He turned down the offer, instead accepting a role in a low-budget Australian film called ‘Rough Diamonds’.

    “Now I have made a couple of bad calls in my time, but I have to say that was probably my worst,” he said.

    “It would be this film that would take Guy Pearce, my old friend from ‘Neighbours’, who stepped into my shoes when I turned the role down, to Hollywood.

    “’Rough Diamonds’, released that very same year, bombed.”

    Donovan will play Tick – played by Hugo Weaving in the film – in the London stage production.

    The Daily Telegraph – Wednesday, 17 September 2008 (Page 17)

    London calling for Priscilla. By Stephen Downie

    It’s a long way from the outback to London’s West End – especially in such high heels.

    ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – The Musical’ sashayed into the UK yesterday for its official launch ahead of its Palace Theatre opening on March 24 next year.

    And the London cast is sure to raise eyebrows, with former ‘Neighbours’ star Jason Donovan set to play the role of Tick, made famous by Hugo Weaving in the popular 1994 movie and Jeremy Stanford in the Australian musical production.

    Things have come full circle for Donovan, who was initially offered the part of Felicia in the movie, but turned it down. That role ultimately went to Guy Pearce.

    Speaking from London, Donovan said he was looking forward to frocking up for the show.

    “It’s wonderful to be an Australian in London about to do an Australian production,” he said.

    Tony Sheldon, who starred in the Australian show, will reprise his role as Bernadette in the $6.5 million production.

    He said the London musical had a good chance of being a hit.

    Sheldon will soon be back in Australia to prepare for the return season of the musical to Star City’s Lyric Theatre on October 7.

    Photo: Launch – Some of the ‘Priscilla’ cast in London yesterday.

    The Age – Wednesday, 17 September 2008 (Page 3)

    London calling for desert queen. By Raymond Gill

    Australian theatre arrived in London yesterday with heavy artillery. Forty ridiculously over-the-top costumes, 1000 ping pong balls, a flurry of ostrich feathers and 30 performers, just one of whom happened to be British TV favourite Jason Donovan.

    The famous ‘Neighbours’ star may be the only name familiar to British audiences who yesterday heard that Australian musical ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’ will take out some prime West End real estate at the Palace Theatre – now home to ‘Spamalot’ – from March 24, 2009.

    Donovan will play the role of drag queen Tick in the show based on the 1994 film about three Sydney drag queens who cross the outback to Alice Springs in a battered bus they have named ‘Priscilla’.

    One of Donovan’s fellow drag queens will be Australian theatre star Tony Sheldon, who will make his West End debut reprising the role of Bernadette.

    He already wowed audiences with this role when the musical played extended seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand from 2006 and took $90 million in box office.

    Sheldon is rumoured to have ousted some heavyweight names for the prize role – including, according to British theatre websites, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ star Michael Crawford.

    “The enormity of this only hit me on the plane over here,” Sheldon said yesterday in London.

    “For 30 years various people have said to me ‘You’re going to London’ with this or that role’.

    “But I owe this to Simon Phillips (‘Priscilla’s’ director), who invited me to do the very first workshop for the show and who believed in me more than I did myself,” he said.

    Phillips, who is also artistic director of the Melbourne Theatre Company, brings his production to London – which is awash with more than 30 big-budget musicals – along with a 10-metre bus, 500 costumes by Oscar winning designer Lizzy Gardiner, 200 wigs and 23 tonnes of glittery scenery.

    Photo: ‘Priscilla’ star Tony Sheldon in London yesterday.

  5. Samuel Inglles Says:

    Hi Ian

    More ‘Priscilla’ related articles!

    Kind Regards
    Samuel Inglles

    The Advertiser (Adelaide) – Monday, 21 July 2008 (Page 7)


    Another star act for resurgent industry

    Hugo’s $4 million Last Ride – minus the drag. By Andrew Fenton (Film Writer)

    The last time Hugo Weaving star of new South Australian film ‘The Last Ride’, travelled to the Flinders Ranges was in 1993 and he was in drag and on a bus.

    “We drove from Broken Hill through the Flinders Ranges and up to Coober Pedy on ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ in 1994,” Weaving said during a break in rehearsals at the Directors Hotel in Gouger St. “So I’ve been up to the area we’re going (but) on a slightly different film.”

    ‘The Last Ride’, which begins its six-week shoot today, is one of five movies being produced in South Australia this year.

    The state’s booming film industry is well on track to meet a target of six feature films a year by 2014.

    Weaving plays a violent father on the run from the law with his young son Chook, played by Beaumont schoolboy Tom Russell, 10.

    The $4 million SA Film Corporation production will cross 3000km of the state over the coming weeks, including locations at Port Wakefield, Quorn, Wilpena Pound, Lake Gairdner and Port Augusta. Weaving, best known for his work as the evil Agent Smith in ‘The Matrix’ and as Elrond in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, had nothing but praise for his young SA co-star. “He’s great, I really like him a lot,” Weaving said.

    “It’s been exciting – I’ve never really worked with a child actor, not in such an intimate way.”

    Weaving has been back in Australia for less than a month, after finishing work in London on the $88 million horror film ‘The Wolf Man’ in late June. That film co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro.

    Weaving said he chose projects based on the quality of the script, rather than the budget, which is why he was excited about ‘The Last Ride’.

    “The best films I’ve done have been films like this.”

    Director Glendyn Ivin, who won the Palm D’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival for his short film ‘Cracker Bag’, said the film explored if the children of bad parents could grow up without becoming bad parents themselves.

    Photo: On location – Hugo Weaving and co-star Tom Russell take a break from shooting.


    * Established in 1972 to create a sophisticated, dynamic film and television industry.
    * The State Government, in this year’s Budget, announced $43 million for a new SAFC headquarters at Glenside.
    * The list of SAFC films includes successful productions such as ‘Sunday Too Far Away’, ‘Storm Boy’, ‘Breaker Morant’, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Look Both Ways’, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ and ‘Lucky Mile’.
    *The SAFC has successfully supported the careers of SA directors Scott Hicks and Rolf de Heer.

    Photo: On location – Hugo Weaving and co-star Tom Russell take a break from shooting.

    The Sun-Herald (Sunday) – Tuesday, 5 October 2008 (Pages 6 & 7)

    Priscilla’s Child: After winning an Oscar, Lizzy Gardiner had Hollywood at her well-shod feet. Then she made a choice, writes Julietta Jameson.

    Costume designer Lizzy Gardiner was working on a Hollywood movie being made in Sydney when the task came up to create a T-shirt in just the right hue of blue for a lead character.

    “The studio heads had to approve the shade,” says Gardiner, who worked in 2000 on ‘Mission Impossible 2’ starring Tom Cruise, among other films (she doesn’t name the films of which she speaks). “So the dyer and I created 18 different T-shirts in 18 different shades of blue and sent them off. The studio heads all sat around together, finally settled on shade 13 and sent it back. When we saw what they picked, the dyer and I said: ‘That’s a horrible colour’ and just went ahead and used another one.

    “When the movie came out, all the studio heads were congratulating each other on their choice.”

    Gardiner, 40, tells the story to illustrate why she forsook Hollywood for motherhood. “So do I miss LA? No, I don’t,” she says.

    “I don’t miss being in the middle of nowhere at 4.30am, with an actor who won’t come out of [the] trailer, and having to use a filthy port-a-loo. Not at all.”

    You don’t get a sense of her protesting too much. Gardiner really does seem happy with her decisions and resultant lot in life as mother to Lola, 8, partner to Andy Yuncken, and resident of Avalon.

    Thirteen years ago she was a woman who had Hollywood at her pretty feet. In 1995, alongside design partner Tim Chappel, she won an Oscar for their work on the movie ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’, beating Woody Allen’s ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ with their over-the-top frocks.

    They were worn by Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce in Gardiner’s school friend Stephan Elliott’s audacious film about three gay men and a bus in the outback.

    Gardiner herself garnered attention by turning up to the Oscars wearing a dress made of American Express cards. “American Express break it out of its glass case every now and then and show it at a museum or in an exhibition,” laughs Gardiner of the garment now used by Amex for promotional purposes. “That dress has a life of its own.”

    As has Gardiner. She’s still up to her elbows in Priscilla-related business, as costume designer (alongside Chappel again) for the musical theatre version of ‘Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert’.

    “It’s off to London’s West End next.”

    But it’s daughter Lola who is her greatest creation. Ask Gardiner what happened after the Hollywood hoop-la and she says simply: “I got pregnant.”

    And that was when she made her choice, opting to come back to Australia and focus on motherhood.

    It’s not like she hasn’t had a career since; when Hollywood comes to Sydney it tends to come calling on Gardiner. In addition to the Cruise blockbuster, she has created wardrobe for films including ‘Stealth’, starring Jessica Biel and ‘Ghost Rider’, featuring Nicolas Cage. She is creative director for a Sydney production company, “a more corporate job than I used to do and I really enjoy it”.

    It seems necessary, though, to ask a woman whose trophy cabinet includes the highest accolades in her field how she managed to turn her back on its epicentre right at the top of her game.

    “I get angry when people say women can have it all,” she answers. “These actresses who say, ‘I have these children and I don’t have a nanny’; they’re not helping anyone. Just stop it. You have four nannies, 24 hours a day. It just makes other women feel inadequate.

    “It’s like an anorexic actress saying ‘but I eat’ when they’re skin and bone. Come on, they haven’t eaten in years.

    “For me, perhaps not for everybody, I had to give my attention to raising my daughter. Some people may be able to do it but the whole pretence that it’s not hard is really not helping anyone.”

    Perhaps because Gardiner’s childhood was out of the ordinary, she’s keen to ensure Lola’s isn’t.

    The daughter of a hotelier-jewel merchant, Gardiner spent more than a year of her early childhood living on a coffee plantation in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

    “I don’t remember much of it. I do remember me and my two brothers being chased through a field by a headhunter. We don’t talk about it. I think it’s just too intense and bewildering that it actually happened. I mean, what were we doing out there? Who was looking after us? How did we get away?”

    Spending the balance of her childhood in Dubbo, she attended Pymble Ladies’ College in her teens. Her young adult years were spent living the alternative Sydney life – dance parties, the art scene and, of course, the Albury Hotel, Sydney’s one-time drag central on Oxford Street.

    “I don’t want her to do any of [that],” she says of her daughter. “It was just so dangerous: alone on the street trying to get a cab at four in the morning; those dance parties, the craziness…” Though, as Gardiner knows, where there’s a will there’s a way. “She’s creative, amazingly artistic,” Gardiner says of her daughter with a resigned sigh, accepting what that could mean: perhaps, in time, Lola will take up where Lizzy left off.

    Photos: (1) High style…costume designer Lizzy Gardiner with the ‘Priscilla’ cast. (2) In her credit-card dress, says “I get really angry when people say women can have it all.”

    The Courier-Mail – Tuesday, 21 October 2008 (Page 13)

    Stamp of approval but not for classics. By Des Houghton (Assistant Editor)

    Some of our finest films have been controversially overlooked in a poll to find the most popular local productions of all time.

    Classics such as ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘Mad Max’ and ‘My Briliant Career’ have been snubbed in favour of more recent and populist films including ‘The Castle and ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, both released in 1994. Peter Weir’s ‘Gallipoli (1981) was, however, one of the five favourite films in the online poll conducted by the Australian Film Institute to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

    Also on the list were ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ and ‘Lantana’.

    However, a surprisingly number that did not make the cut included ‘Crocodile Dundee’, ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and ‘Shine’, for which Queensland actor Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar. The most popular film chosen from the shortlist will be revealed at a television ceremony in Melbourne on December 6. Australia Post, meanwhile, is honouring the final five films by featuring them on postage stamps.

    The five stamps have been developed from the poster artwork originally used to promote the films, said Noel Leahy, Australia Post Philatelic manager.

    “Australia Post is delighted to be able to feature these five favourite Australian films as voted by the Australian public on this historic stamp issue,” he said. “This year represents 50 years of pride and passion from the AFI in promoting Australian film, and this stamp issue is a wonderful way to celebrate the achievements of Australian cinema throughout this time.”

    AFI spokesman Alan Finney said the films represent a good range.

    “You’ve got Anzac war heroes through to saving the family home through to dysfunctional Muriel through to Priscilla, which Roger Ebert (US film critic) says was a drag version of ‘Easy Rider’,” Mr Finney said.

    Pictures of the stamps: Sticking points…the five postage stamps depicting the AFI finalists.

    The Weekend Australian – Saturday, 8-9 November 2008 (Pages 4, 5 & 6)


    Turning the titanic

    A film industry mired by bickering, finger pointing and indecision will greet Ruth Harley when she takes up the reins of Screen Australia next week, writes Michael Bodey.

    The Australian film industry has lurched from crisis to boom and inexplicably back to crisis throughout its short, erratic history. Moguls including Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch and Hollywood studios have come and gone from the industry; locals have lamented a paucity of government funding and mourned the exodus of our best talent overseas.

    The Gorton and Whitlam governments formalised the nascent industry in the early 1970s, establishing among other innovations an experimental film fund, a national film school and the development body that would evolve into the Australian Film Commission.

    Now, on the eve of the release of Australia’s most ambitious film, Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ the maligned government funding system is in transition. Luhrmann’s ‘Strictly Ballroom’ (1992) was a child of the former Film Finance Corporation model, which wound up on June 30 this year; ‘Australia’ will be a beneficiary of the new producer offset model, administered by the super-agency Screen Australia.

    But will the new funding model be an improvement? Is it the model that is the problem anyway? Or can blame for the industry’s underperformance be apportioned to the people drawn to work in its creative branch?

    In political terms, culture remains a dilemma: there is no correlation, for example, between a vibrant film industry and how the nation votes. On the other hand, film may be an expensive, even elite art form, but it is capable of invigorating national identity.

    The Howard government’s May 2007 federal budget ignored the political disincentive, ushering in a brace of new initiatives promising the biggest shake-up of the film industry since the introduction of the 10BA tax breaks in 1980.

    The $282 million package called for the merging of the Film Finance Corporation, the Australian Film Commission and, unexpectedly, Film Australia, into one mega-agency, the Australian Screen Authority, since renamed Screen Australia, and for a producer tax rebate of 40 per cent for feature films and 20 per cent for television productions.

    At the time both initiatives garnered broad, if qualified, support. Eighteen months later, bickering, indecision, politics and revisionism have tarnished Australian film’s brave new order.

    A large-scale Hollywood film, George Miller’s ‘Justice League Mortal’, was denied the producer offset in contentious circumstances; Screen Australia has become an over-staffed bureaucracy; and the none-to-subtle message from federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett’s office to screen Australia headquarters in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, is that the old film financing and development system swept away under the new regime had failed: failed its own industry and, more particularly, failed Australian audiences.

    “No matter what you think of Australian films, that is incredibly arrogant,” says one former film department chief.

    As Garrett said of the film industry in March on ABC1’s ‘Lateline’, “I think progress, we can say in general terms, is doing better than we’ve done in the past.” That won’t be difficult. Were it not for ‘Australia’, the local share of this year’s box office would have been the worst since records were first kept in 1977, worse even than 2004’s dismal 1.3 per cent. This year, not even one in 100 cinema tickets sold has been for an Australian film.

    The industry is at a fork in the road, according to George Brandis, who as the Howard government’s last arts minister introduced the new regime (developed by his ministerial predecessor, Rod Kemp).

    “We’re at a real turning point between those who have Whitlamite notions of the Australian film industry as needing the life support of government for smaller and smaller projects with less and less audience appeal, and those who really want the industry to be more commercial,” Brandis says. “[From] what I’ve seen of Garrett, his view is to take a much narrower and more nationalistic and protectionist view of the film industry, which is a tragedy.”

    Those looking for a renaissance in the nation’s cinema are hoping for an injection of much-needed leadership from Screen Australia’s incoming chief executive, Ruth Harley.

    Harley, who begins a five-year term next Friday, comes to the task with more than a decade’s experience at the helm of the New Zealand Film Commission.

    “It was quite a sad organisation, an organisation with low morale, and now it’s definitely not that,” she says of her tenure.

    Working in Harley’s favour was one giant film franchise, ‘The Lord of the Rings’. It transformed NZ’s film infrastructure, bankrolling new studio space, digital-visual effects houses such as WETA Workshop and, of course, jobs.

    Obviously such a phenomenon can’t be manufactured. But how much can a government film agency or funding structure achieve? Most contemporary thinking suggests results can’t be prescribed by government agencies. Indeed, Screen Australia’s latest set of guidelines, released late last month, has been described by agency insiders as a “de-evolution of the agency role”. Conversely, and indicating the confusion corroding industry confidence, Screen Australia’s strategy suggests it plans to become involved in marketing and distribution of Australian films, areas most believe should be left to commercial experts.

    Meanwhile, Screen Australia’s interest in the one area of distribution it could be involved in to great effect – digitising cinemas in the Regional Digital Screen Network program, thereby guaranteeing local films are screened in Australian cinemas – appears to have dissipated.

    For the new Screen Australia board headed by IBM chief executive Glen Boreham, negotiating the film industry’s many quandaries and contradictions will be a hard and convoluted road.

    The challenge will not be helped by some of Garrett’s selections for the board, who ticked political boxes but came light on in institutional memory or long-term production or distribution expertise. This combination of a new board with a fresh government has some industry practitioners fearing Screen Australia will make the same mistakes, rather than learn from those made during more than 35 years.

    On the positive side, and suggesting moves towards a much-needed change to Australia’s film industry culture, the new organisation is shifting responsibility for performance into the hands of film producers.

    Convention says the FFC’s often-prescriptive output failed during its 20-year life as its insular dramas and broad comedies failed to connect with audiences. Neither the flood of inane comedies earlier this decade, including ‘Take Away’ and ‘You and Your Stupid Mate’, nor lauded dramas such as ‘Somersault’ and ‘The Proposition’, attracted broad audiences.

    Yet the FFC began strongly, arguably coalescing the volume of films and experience built during the 1980s under the often-derided 10BA tax write-off scheme into a less random and abused film sector. ‘Strictly Ballroom’, ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, ‘Green Card’ and ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ were among the first films it financed in what is now seen as its heyday.

    We haven’t replicated that era of commercial and global success, partly because no one truly understands what brought it about. Certainly, a group of emerging creative talent was discovered by more experienced producers who cut their teeth in the prolific 1980s.

    And it was an era when audiences weren’t gun-shy of local cinema. Success begat success, just as failure begat failure in the early years of the present decade.

    The years 1991-96 saw the release of six of the only 10 films to recoup their FFC investment: ‘Green Card’, ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, ‘Shine’, ‘Sirens’ and ‘Strictly Ballroom’. (The other four were ‘Napoleon’, ‘The Wog Boy’, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ and ‘Wolf Creek’.)

    Of course, recouping investments is not the primary focus of a cultural agency. Indeed, in its 20-year life the FFC invested $1.4 billion in 1079 projects, resulting in a total production value of $2.58 billion.

    In its later years, it became a cultural patsy, chided as audiences rejected an increasing number of introspective local dramas. More worryingly, some hit comedies, including ‘The Castle’, ‘The Dish’ and ‘Kenny’, were financed privately, without the FFC’s largesse.

    “The big question is, did the old system actually make ‘Strictly Ballroom’, ‘Priscilla’, ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, ‘Shine’, and ‘The Piano’ all in the space of a few years?” producer Jonathan Shteinman asks. “I don’t think any of those directors followed the system or tried to second-guess it, so then you have to ask: did the system then stop making [more of] those films happen?”

    Unarguably so, according to comments by producer Antony Ginnane (since elected president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia) in a paper he wrote for ‘Screenhub’ in May: “One cannot resile from the fact that by any objective commercial standards, FFC policies failed to improve the industry success rate; or to increase the involvement of the private sector or local or international distributors in the industry or (with a couple of exceptions) help create sustainable businesses. Neither did it re-engage Australian theatrical audiences with Australian cinema.”

    The reasons for Australian cinema’s stasis since the mid-1990s – and the FFC’s contribution to it – are many varied and oft-quoted, including but not limited to: poor script development; the industry’s welfare mentality; a wearying hand-to-mouth existence of film practitioners; inadequate development programs; no meaningful engagement with global distributors; a soft or tough media; clueless film agencies; and too little government funding.

    But the film industry doesn’t blame itself. Even the audience is at fault, but in cinema’s ongoing hubris, the people who make the films are never at fault.

    Former FFC chief Brian Rosen says: “It’s not about the agency getting it wrong. An agency is really a conduit to help people get there. The agency doesn’t create talent.”

    In Rosen’s view, the key problem has been a dearth of new talent in the past decade. The 1970s “new wave” threw up Miller and successful directors such as Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong, Phil Noyce and Bruce Beresford. In the early 1990s a similarly talented crop of directors emerged: Luhrmann, P.J. Hogan, Stephan Elliot and Scott Hicks are among those set to release films in the next 12 months.

    Today’s most successful Australian producers all cut their teeth in the 1970s and 1980s. And the number of globally recognised screenwriters? You can count them on one hand.

    Rosen’s time at the FFC was significant for his lambasting of the predictable, non-commercial fare being submitted for government funding, peaking with his lament earlier this year of ‘small films that appeal to about 100,000 people…about lesbians, drugs and whatever else”.

    He concedes the industry has itself to blame for not finding, nurturing and developing the right people in the past decade. The guilty list includes film schools, screen agencies and even producers. Meanwhile, those talents who have made it through have been over-indulged. “Is it because we’re middle class and comfortable and had a reasonable education that they want to write worthy stuff?” Rosen asks. “They’re not really hungry for success, and they want to write something that wins awards and peer group recognition rather than something that is commercial because commercial is seen as crass.”

    Tristram Miall, producer of ‘Strictly Ballroom’ and this year’s highest grossing Australian film, ‘The Black Balloon’, is similarly frustrated.

    “Like a lot of people, I would question why a lot of writers and directors want to do a lot of small, dark films. Because I don’t see the evidence at the box office that an audience wants to see them, even though they find them creatively satisfying,” he says. “I’m still surprised that there just aren’t that many projects I see with mainstream appeal.”

    Of course, it’s easy to ask our filmmakers to be more commercial.

    And Rosen accepts there were limits to how a film could be funded: “It was a matter of ticking the boxes and the best way to do that was essentially to do drawing-room dramas.”

    Screen Australia’s executive director, marketing support and promotion, Tait Brady, doesn’t subscribe to the view that filmmakers second-guessed the FFC but he concedes genre films were on the nose for some time.

    As the FFC wound up, he analysed 180 films that went past his desk in his four years as the FFC’s evaluation manager. It provides a handy snapshot of the films that made it to the top of the film funding process. But it’s also a narrow view that supports the contention that our filmmakers, and not necessarily the FFC, failed us.

    “It wasn’t meant to be critical and I wasn’t defending the FFC,” Brady says. “It was shocking to see what we all knew but in percentages, particularly the lack of adaptations.”

    The vast majority of projects were from Sydney or Melbourne; of the 180, 84 were by writer-directors, 63 were first features and less than 20 per cent were by female writers. Brady classified just under half (85) the scripts as “downbeat, introverted, intense personal dramas”, and categorised them in order of popularity as: personal autobiographical; coming of age-rite of passage; women and daughters damaged by parents; fathers and sons; mothers and sons; mothers and daughters.

    Need it be said that none of the 10 highest grossing Australian films – ‘Crocodile Dundee’, ‘Babe’, ‘Happy Feet’, ‘Moulin Rouge!’, ‘Crocodile Dundee II’, ‘Strictly Ballroom’, ‘The Dish’, ‘The Man from Snowy River’, ‘Priscilla’ and ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ – would be classified as downbeat or personal dramas?

    “They were largely personal stories and that led us to wonder – and we’re not the first to say this – has the dictum of ‘write what you know’ been taken too literally,” Brady asks rhetorically. “It should be the foundation of the story, not literally the story.”

    He further defined common themes as desert and country town settings, bad or mad mothers, whitefellas’ meaningful encounters with indigenous Australians, and immigrant stories. In the survey of four years, Brady rarely saw comedy scripts (only three romantic comedies), satire, family or children’s films, or contemporary political drama, and surprisingly few adaptations. As if to emphasise the industry’s schizophrenia, two recent adaptations co-funded by the FFC, ‘The Children of Huang Shi’ and ‘Disgrace’, the screen version J.M. Coetzee’s acclaimed novel, raised much ire because they were co-productions shot in China and South Africa and used little Australian talent. Critics, including at least one FFC board member, argued they were not deserving of FFC funding.

    Ironically, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was the adaptation that transformed NZ, and Peter Jackson’s trilogy created unrealistic expectations of what Australia’s film industry was capable of.

    Or did it? Certainly Miller remains praiseworthy, even envious, of Jackson’s achievement. Miller is trying to established his own studio in Sydney by using the 40 per cent producer offset. Sequels to ‘Happy Feet’, ‘Babe’ and ‘Mad Max’ are in development.

    Yet his inability to receive the 40 per cent offset for his planned Warner Bros film ‘Justice League Mortal’ was the Kryptonite in that super Sydney studio’s path (although Miller was not denied outright; if he earned a writing credit, it might well have qualified).

    His spat in the final days of the FFC was of great political significance, though. It was a philosophical test for the Rudd Government: would it approve a 40 per cent tax rebate for a film likely to cost more than $200 million that would nevertheless help establish a viable Sydney production studio and, together with Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’, kick-start the industry? Or would it hold out and protect the rebate for films of cultural significance?

    While Garrett told ‘Lateline’, “I’m at arm’s length from the decision-making of the Film Finance Corporation that has given George Miller’s film the indication [from the FFC] it has up to this point”, insiders say that his antipathy, even fear, of Miller’s film was clearly expressed. Some sources also admit the Coalition government would have allowed Miller’s contentious film an easier path to the rebate, if only to accelerate confidence and jobs in the new system.

    That’s history now. And while there is much optimism about the potential of the new screen incentives, there is also a kind of fatalism. The best intentions won’t revolutionise the Australian film industry, Rosen says: “It’s like trying to turn the Titanic around. You just can’t, all you can do is avoid some of the icebergs because the industry is what the industry is.”

    We should accept that film is a gamble, Shteinman adds. “it’s so sad that after $1 billion of taxpayers’ money being spent, we’re no closer to knowing how to do it. The conclusion is there is no formula other than to make more films. France makes more than 200 a year and we see the best six, so we think their industry’s hot.

    “So only more rolls of the dice will lead to better films.”

    The Sun-Herald – Sunday, 16 November 2008 (Pages 18 & 19)

    Scene the outback?

    You’ve seen the films, now see the real thing. Lee Atkinson reports on our top movie locations.

    All the world’s a stage, it seems, or at least a good part of the Australian countryside is. And were not just talking about Baz Luhrmann using Bowen in North Queensland and the Kimberley in Western Australia as the set for his soon-to be-released film ‘Australia’. Follow in the footsteps of the movie world’s A-list and discover the locations featured in some of our classic films. If you loved the movie, here’s how to see the real thing.


    Everyone’s been talking up the potential for ‘Australia’ (the movie) to put Australia (the wide brown land) on the map. As well as a multimillion-dollar tourism advertising campaign that piggybacks on the (hoped for) success of Baz Luhrmann’s epic, there has also been a boost from Nicole Kidman’s recent declaration that the waterfalls and waterholes near Kununurra helped her, and several others working on the film, conceive.

    “There is something up there in the Kununurra water,” she was reported as saying, “because we all went swimming in the waterfalls, so we call it the fertility waters now.” Now hopeful parents-to-be are flocking to places such as El Questro (voyages.com.au), a million-acre cattle farm and tourism complex.

    Just next door is Home Valley Station (homevalley.com.au), another film location where you can recreate some of the dramatic cattle-muster scenes on a three-hour trail ride beside the Cockburn Ranges.

    Tourism WA is not so keen about promoting that other great Western Australian movie location, Wolfe Creek (in the Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater National Park, 1800 kilometres north-east of Perth), where the 2005 horror movie of almost the same name turned many potential campers off the outback for life.


    Sleepy Bowen in the Whitsundays was transformed into a self-styled “Bowenwood” during the filming of ‘Australia’, with the movie magic recreating 1940s Darwin for the bombing scenes. Many of the existing buildings were in the film, including Customs House and the Grandview Hotel, embellished somewhat to resemble a typical 1930s hotel. The only set still standing is the façade of the “1894 Police Station” – the large, flat grassy area in front was where the township of Darwin was built. The 16-acre set is believed to be one of the largest outdoor sets ever made.

    It’s not he first time Nicole has worked in the Whitsundays. The movie that helped launch her career, the 1989 thriller ‘Dead Calm’, which also starred Sam Neil, was filmed in the Whitsunday passage. The yachting holiday-turned-nightmare flick about picking up a stranger who intends a couple much harm is quite possibly enough to turn you off bare-boat charters for ever. Lovely scenery though.

    Hugh Jackman’s also no stranger to Queensland, or the outback, combining both when he filmed the 1999 feel good romance
    ‘Paperback Hero’ with Claudia Karvan in the tiny one-horse town of Nindigully (population six), 160 kilometres west of Goondiwindi. Hugh played a romance-writing truck driver and most of the action was set in the Boomerang Café, which in real life is the Nindigully pub, whose real claim to fame is that not only is it Queensland’s oldest pub but it also serves some of the biggest steaks you’ll find anywhere.


    NSW saw some movie action with the Snowy Mountains town of Jindabyne starring, alongside Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington, in 2004’s ‘Somersault’ and Ray Lawrence’s dark 2006 drama ‘Jindabyne’. Hitch a ride with the Riverboat Postman. (hawkesburyriverferries.com.au) on a four-hour run up the Hawkesbury River delivering mail to isolated communities and oyster farmers and you’ll experience a slice of the river life evocatively filmed for 2004’s ‘Oyster Farmer’.

    ‘The Dish’ introduced the delights of Parkes and its radio telescope to a much wider world beyond that occupied by boffins and science geeks, even though much of the movie was actually filmed in nearby Forbes. You can take a free tour of the facility (parkes.atnf.csiro.au) but sadly you won’t be able to recreate the famous cricket game on the dish itself. Likewise, the smash hit ‘Babe’, about a pig raised by sheepdogs, showcased the rural delights of the Southern Highlands to families who still flock to the bucolic green hills around the tiny town of Robertson.

    The most famous of al movie locations in NSW is Silverton near Broken Hill. It was pretty much a ghost town until it became the set for ‘Mad Max II’ back in 1981 and literally dozens of commercials and films have followed, including ‘Razorback’, ‘A Town like Alice’, ‘Dirty Deeds’ and ‘The Craic’, making it perhaps one of the most recognisable small towns in the country. Drop in and have a cold drink at the Silverton pub and you’ll hear all about them – on average, a commercial is shot there every five weeks. A replica of Mad Max’s V8 Interceptor is parked outside.


    ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ and ‘Mad Max’ both made a splash in Coober Pedy as well, where most of the action took place on Moon Plains, just out of town.

    The desert landscapes of South Australia are very popular with the movie set, with the Flinders Ranges serving as the stunning location for ‘Holy Smoke’, the Kate Winslet-Harvey Keitel drama about religious manipulation. Despite being set in remote WA, the 2002 film about an amazing journey on foot across the outback by three Aboriginal girls in 1931, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’, was actually filmed near Parachilna, also in the Flinders Ranges. Spend a night at the Prairie Hotel (where all the stars stay) and try the hotel’s signature dish, the Feral Mixed Grill of emu, kangaroo, goat and camel (prairiehotel.com.au).

    For a bit of romance and mystery, spend a long weekend at Martindale Hall near Mintaro in the Clare Valley (martindalehall.com), a beautiful, historic B&B that doubled as the elite private girls’ school Appleyard College in the 1970s classic ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’


    The mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls during a Valentine’s Day picnic in 1990 may be fiction but he place is real. Hanging Rock, north of Mount Macedon, is a mound of massive granite tors riddled with caves, tunnels and overhanging boulders its shapes and acoustic echoes enhancing its already spooky reputation.

    If it’s serenity you’re after, then where better to visit than Bonnie Doon on the edge of Lake Eildon, made famous as the holiday spot with the lot in the 1997 smash hit ‘The Castle’? There are plenty of tranquil waterfront places to stay and it’s as popular with water-and power-skiers as it ever was (bonniedoon.net).

    Victoria’s most famous movie location however, Craig’s Hut, seems to have taken on a life of its own, way beyond its use in the 1981 movie ‘The Man From Snowy River’. Clinging to the cliff-like mountain edge between Alpine National Park and Mount Stirling and rimmed by countless hazy blue peaks, the wooden-slab hut looks and feels like the real thing.

    Inside, you can almost hear the 100-year-old walls whisper stories of wild mountain rides and the dirt floor and huge fireplace conjure up cosy images of shared meals while the wind moans outside.

    The original 1981 hut was built as a mere façade and it quickly fell into disrepair once filming finished. It was rebuilt in 1993 for the second ‘Man From Snowy River’ film, became one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area, was burnt down by bushfires in 2006 and rebuilt yet again last Summer (mansfield-mtbuller.com.au).


    Just last year the horror flick ‘Rogue’, about a travel writer and some tourists being stalked by a crocodile, brought into the limelight the wildlife at Kakadu National Park (even though the nocturnal scenes were actually shot on a specially built island in the middle of a lake in Victoria), but you’d still be best advised not to try and recreate the swimming scene. But of all the truly great moments in Aussie film, who can resist replicating that famous scene from ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ on the edge of the 100-metre-high cliffs at Kings Canyon, 330 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs? Just make sure you’ve got the right frock.

    Photos: On location… (1) Victoria’s Lake Eildon appeared in ‘The Castle’, WA’s Cockburn Ranges appear in ‘Australia’, as does El Questro homestead; ‘Priscilla’ star Hugo Weaving dances through Coober Pedy; QLD’s Nindigully pub, from ‘Paperback Hero’; Babe frolics in NSW; and Jindabyne scene.

  6. Samuel N. Inglles Says:

    * The Age – Melbourne (Tuesday, 4 August 2009) Page 10

    Priscilla, Queen of New York

    The hit show ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’ is to become only the second Australian musical to open in New York. The show’s co-producer, Gary McQuinn, told ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ that bookings had been confirmed for Broadway in early 2011. The Peter Allen biography, ‘The Boy From Oz’, is the only other Australian-developed musical to go to New York. ‘Priscilla’ grossed more than $80 million in Sydney and Melbourne, where it closed at the Regent Theatre in April last year before its London premiere last March.

    * The Australian – The Best Of Everything Magazine (June 2009) Page 14

    You can’t stop the musical

    In London they’re calling it the ABBA Index – the rise in popularity of ABBA’s music in straitened times. But it’s not just ‘Mamma Mia!’ packing them in the aisles of West End theatres. Tried-and-tested formulas – specifically, musicals based on popular films – have taken over the city’s stages. As well as the Australian production of ‘Priscilla’ at the Palace Theatre, a show based on ‘Sister Act’ has just opened at the Palladium and a musical version of the film ‘Legally Blonde’ begins at the Savoy Theatre later this year.

    *The Daily Telegraph – Sydney (Monday, 6 April 2009) Page 11

    Playing for their survival. By Stephen Downie (Arts Editor)

    With three box office duds and a company gone belly-up, Sydney’s theatre industry was already limping.

    Now the looming recession has forced companies and producers to rethink strategies to get audiences through the door.

    Discounted tickets, package deals and an emphasis on uplifting escapist entertainment were just some of the methods being adopted.

    ‘Buddy! – The Buddy Holly Story’, for example, is offering mid-week deals for $39.90, while ‘Guys And Dolls’ has a package including free parking and a program.

    Company B general manager Brenna Hobson admitted there was a lot of uncertainty in the industry at the moment.

    Belvoir Street Theatre subscribers were down on last year, she said. But on the positive side, sales show-on-show were strong, indicating people were perhaps being more choosy.

    “I think people are still going out, they’re just waiting to see if a show has a good review or there is good word of mouth,” she said.

    “If things continue to be difficult we’ll have a few tight years ahead of us before people return to committing themselves long-term top shows.

    “From a programming perspective, we’re trying to put on shows which are a bit more uplifting.”

    At the Sydney Theatre Company, subscribers had gone from 16,000 last year to 17,000 this year. But STC’s Rob Brookman said the rebound was not as sizeable as the company had hoped, particularly in light of the launch of the first program by co-artistic directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton this year.

    “People are being very wary when it comes to theatre tickets. But there has to be point when they say, ‘I just can’t stay home and watch TV forever’,” he said.

    The bigger issue for the STC, Company B and most companies was sponsorship. Quite a deal of income for a theatre is generated through corporate sponsorships and, as Mr Brookman said, these companies were looking very hard at cutting costs in this area.

    Expect that beast to rear its head in 2010, when many deals will be up for re-negotiation, Mr Brookman said.

    Producers of the big musicals were keen to play down talk of the financial crisis hurting their side of the industry. “Good shows always survive,” ‘Guys and Dolls’ general manager Sue Farrelly said.

    While ‘Chicago’ producer John Frost said: “Overall, the market is quite good. We’re going to open in Sydney [in May] with $4 million in the bank.”

    But even he knows there is no use experimenting in the present climate.

    Theatre of Pain

    * Priscilla Queen Of The Desert
    While its Sydney return run was by no means a failure, it closed after a month citing turbulent financial times. The show has since gone on to a successful opening in London.

    * High School Musical – Live On Stage!
    And dead before its time. The stage version of Disney’s popular franchise closed four weeks early. Who’d pay for this when you could see Zac Efron on a cinema screen for a fraction of the price?

    * Las Vegas (Confidential)
    An overly-ambitious musical which was ill-suited to the State Theatre. It was mauled by critics and ultimately failed to bring in the punters.

    * Kookaburra
    When musical company Kookaburra, founded by actor Peter Cousens, folded earlier this year a letter to creditors claimed the company had become a victim of the global financial crisis.

    * Valentino
    Not even former Bardot girls Tiffani Wood and Katie Underwood could save this. The production’s one show at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

    *The Sydney Morning Herald (Wednesday, 27 May 2009) Page 3

    Theatre going through a bad stage. By Clare Morgan (Arts Editor)

    A nosedive in subscriptions and a hit to investments left the Sydney Theatre Company with a disappointing financial result for last year.

    The company posted an operating profit of $37,116, due largely to spending cuts and increases in some income streams, but overall it recorded a non-operating loss of $300,911 because of the financial downturn’s impact on the value of investments.

    The company’s general manager, Rob Brookman, said the subscription figures were disappointing and put the fall down to the number of works with dark themes, including ‘Women Of Troy’, ‘The Year Of Magical Thinking’ and ‘The Vertical Hour’.

    He said the company had braced for a mediocre result. The small operating profit was a break-even result, in the context of a $25 million turnover.

    Sydney’s other major theatre company, Company B, recorded a net profit of $110,854 for last year, down from a surplus of $335,185 in 2007.

    Financial statements reveal that the STC’s subscriptions fell from $1.1 million in 2007 to $333,000 in 2008, well bellow the target of $503,000.

    Subscriber numbers fell from 18,911 in 2007 to 16,372 in 2008, short of the target of 19,000.

    There was better news in non-subscription activities, including the Wharf2LOUD program and STC Education, and the company’s touring program, which was the most extensive for more than a decade.

    The 2008 season was the last programmed by the company’s former artistic director, Robyn Nevin, before Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton took over as artistic directors.

    “We’re clearly looking to build up that number, which we’ve done in 2009 – subscriptions are close to 17,000 this year. There’s no doubt that Cate’s and Andrew’s programming has attracted a significant number of subscribers,” Mr Brookman said.

    As well as the financial results, the company also announced yesterday that the designer Catherine Martin had been appointed to the STC board.

    Mr Brookman said the company had been courting Martin, the wife of Baz Luhrmann, for some time.

    Company B’s healthy balance sheet was due to the successful national tour of the musical ‘Keating!’, which was seen by more than 117,000 people in 13 venues, but overall box-office income was lower than in 2007.

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