Muriel, Priscilla, Ballroom Dancing and ABBA, Too! Aussie Movie Musicals Rule, Mate!

It’s time to remember how great movies can make you feel…and how musicals can brighten your mood and put a dance in your step!

Whether you are the Queen Of The Desert, or a blushing new bride…

Grab a partner and dance, dance, dance!

Here are three GREAT movies from Australia that are full of music, dancing, drama, laughs and great performances! Put a smile on and let’s go dancing!

Strictly Ballroom

Director Baz Luhrmann burst onto the movie scene with this exuberant movie musical that celebrates ballroom dancing AND individualism!

Scott Hastings is a champion caliber ballroom dancer, but much to the chagrin of the Australian ballroom dance community, Scott believes in dancing “his own steps”.

Fran is a beginning dancer and a bit of an ugly duckling who has the audacity to ask to be Scott’s partner after his unorthodox style causes his regular partner to dance out of his life.

You see, Scott just can’t dance like everyone else – he needs to express his artistic freedom on the dance floor…and that doesn’t sit well with Barry Fife, who runs the competition…

Barry Fife: Well, of course, you can dance any steps you like! But that doesn’t mean you’ll…
[Slam into a close-up of Barry’s mouth]
Barry Fife: …win.

So Scott teams up with Fran – well, after she challenges him to give her a chance:

Scott: Look, a beginner has no right to approach an Open Amateur.
Fran: Yeah, well an Open Amateur has no right to dance non-Federation steps, but you did, didn’t you?
Scott: But that’s different.
Fran: *How* is it different? You’re just like the rest of them! You think you’re different, but you’re not, because you’re just, you’re just really scared! You’re really scared to give someone new a go, because you think, you know, they might just be better than you are! Well, you’re just pathetic, and you’re gutless. You’re a gutless wonder! Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!

Together, these two misfits try to win the Australian Pan Pacific Championships and show the Ballroom Confederation that they are wrong when they say, “there are no new steps!”

One of the great aspects of this movie is how individuals can express their creativity and overcome obstacles…as Fran says defiantly in the film:

Fran: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived!”

Director Baz Luhrmann participated in the sorts of ballroom dancing competitions shown in the movie. Stricly Ballroom began life as an improvised play, featuring Luhrmann. The play was later performed at the Sydney Theatre Company.

This is a great celebration of dancing, and certainly helped prime America for “Dancing With The Stars!”

Speaking of individualism, get ready for THIS!

Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert

What a terrific movie – that also celebrates individualism – and does it ever!

Two drag-queens and a transexual contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a resort town in the remote Australian desert.

They head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla. The film celebrates their hilarious, and at times dramatic, journey across the outback.

Felicia: [after showing him the bus he had bought for their trip] Ta-da! What do you think?
Tick: When do we have to return it to the school?

Lots of credit must go to the Actors who stepped up to play these roles, including iconic Actor Terence Stamp…

As well as Hugo Weaving, perhaps best known as the bad guy from “The Matrix”, shown here on the left…

The guys bicker, argue, and grow close as they head to their performance…

Bernadette: [to Tick about Felicia] “One more push, I’m gonna to smack his face so hard he’ll have to stick his toothbrush up his arse to clean his teeth!”

Here is a terrific anecdote: Due to a heavy filming schedule, lots of filming was done while the entire crew was on the road. But because the bus was such a small set, there was no room for the crew. As such in many scenes, they are actually in shot, hiding under clothes and other props.

Bernadette: [to Felicia] That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.

The giant shoe is an iconic image, and ultimately is used in the ads for the popular “Priscilla” musical…

According to director Stephan Elliott, he took the three leads out in drag prior to the beginning of filming. None of them were recognized: Guy Pearce took the opportunity to be outrageously rude, Terence Stamp eventually forgot he was in drag and started hitting on girls, and Hugo Weaving got super-drunk and lay under a table for hours, tapping his finger in time to the music. This last detail was incorporated into the film in the hotel room scene.

A wonderful movie, and a terrific musical as well!

Now, time for some ABBA!

Muriel’s Wedding

Everyone loves a blushing bride, right? And everyone loves ABBA! Put the two of them together and you have a brilliant musical that is also very serious, as a young woman tries to find value in her life…

Muriel finds life in Porpoise Spit, Australia dull and spends her days alone in her room listening to Abba music and dreaming of her wedding day.

Slight problem, Muriel has never had a date. Then she steals some money to go on a tropical vacation, and meets a crazy new friend, Rachel Griffiths…

Muriel decides to make up a new life and changes her name to “Mariel”, and turns her world upside down.

[repeated line]
Joanie: You’re terrible, Muriel.
Muriel: When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I’ve met you and moved to Sydney, I haven’t listened to one Abba song. That’s because my life is as good as an Abba song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.

The writer/director P.J. Hogan wanted to use the music of ABBA in the film. At first, permission for the music to be used was denied. When the director promised to fly to Europe to plead his case to the founders of the band, permission was granted, as long as the band received a percentage of the film profits.

The film turned out to be a big international hit, and thus helped inspire the very successful Broadway show which became the movie Mamma Mia!. Smart move, Abba!

The film is serious, because Muriel is sad, lonely and DESPERATE to be a bride…

Rhonda: You’ve tried on every dress in Sydney!
Muriel: That doesn’t mean I’m gonna get married.
Rhonda: Then what DOES it mean?
Muriel: It means I WANT to get married. I’ve always wanted to get married.

Muriel: When I lived in Porpoise Spit, no one looked at me. But when I moved to Sydney, Brice asked me out and that proves that I changed and I’m not her anymore.
Rhonda: Her?
Muriel: Muriel! Muriel Heslop. Stupid, fat and useless. I hate her! I’m never going back to being her again! Why can’t it be me? Why can’t I be the one?

Here is some great trivia…first, let’s go back to “Priscilla”…meet Australian character Actor Bill Hunter, shown here on the left as “Bob The Mechanic”:

And now, here is a great quote from “Muriel’s Wedding, as Muriel’s dad, Bill The Battler, talks about his political career, and what could have been:

“I was nearly in State Government. Four million votes I needed. No one knew who won for three days ’till the postal vote came in. For three days I was almost there… You reap what you sow. You’d think I’d learn that growing up on a farm. You reap what you sow.”

Bill Hunter was filming The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding at the same time, each requiring him to have different length hair, beard and to be in different parts of the country. Both films developed international cult followings and prominently featured the music of ABBA.

Toni Collette is perfect as Muriel, the film has very serious moments but is ultimately, like all three of these films, uplifting and positive – with Abba!

Categories: Academy Awards, Australia, Awards, Books / Media, Comedy Movies, Foreign Films, Golden Globes, London, Movies, Music, Obscure Movies, Talent/Celebrities, Travel, Uncategorized

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