How Kylie could have been queen of the desert

A film still from the new n film Swinging Safari.?? Jo Jones (Radha Mitchell), Rick Jones (Julian McMahon), Kaye Hall (Kylie Minogue), Keith Hall (Guy Pearce), Bob Marsh (Jeremy Sims), Gale Marsh (Asher Keddie) – Swinging SafariFor Garry Maddox. Image supplied.It could have all been so different for the classic n film The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

In the nervous hours before the world premiere of new film Swinging Safari, writer-director Stephan Elliott revealed his breakthrough film about drag queens was originally meant to be full of Kylie Minogue songs instead of Abba and disco hits.

“I’d done a deal with Stock Aitken Waterman to set Priscilla to their library but more specifically all Kylie tracks,” he said. “The film was going to be this little Kylie Minogue homage.”

But the plan changed when PolyGram took over the film and insisted Elliott choose songs from its music catalogue.

“I went ballistic and said ‘we’re a year into this deal’,” he said. “Then they showed me the PolyGram catalogue and [an executive] said ‘by the way, we bought Motown yesterday’.”

That triumphant comedy launched Elliott as a filmmaker. And while he used Kylie songs in the stage musical version of Priscilla, it has taken him more than two decades after his “dirty, dark, little secret” to team-up with Minogue on a film again.

She is part of the cracking cast for Swinging Safari, a colourful n comedy about growing up in the 1970s.

The story centres on three couples – played by Minogue, former Neighbours co-star Guy Pearce, Radha Mitchell, Julian McMahon, Asher Keddie and Jeremy Sims – during an eventful summer week in a coastal town.

As a washed-up blue whale draws national attention to the local beach, a budding young filmmaker (Atticus Robb) explores a growing bond with a teenage neighbour (Darcey Wilson), while their parents experiment with their new sexual freedom at a “fondue night”.

It’s an evocation of where carefree children play without supervision while their restless parents drink cask wine, play disco records on a K-Tel record selector and feast on a new culinary sensation called Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Minogue said she instantly wanted to be involved when Elliott emailed her the script while she was working in England.

“I dutifully printed [it] out and was reading it in the back of a car in London between A and B,” she said. “I was ‘lolling’ as they say these days. Chortling.

“That’s one of the favourite periods of my life – being seven, eight, nine, living in Wantirna South in the [Melbourne] suburbs with the pool and my brother and sister and eating watermelon and running out and lying on the pavement and hopscotch and BMX.”

Elliott said the he portrayed in the film was “pretty close” to his own childhood growing up in Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches.

“I used my own childhood as a base and then as I started talking to people, more stuff started coming in,” he said. “It’s amazing if you ask people to go into the memory banks.”

The larger-than-life director of Welcome To Woop Woop, Easy Virtue and A Few Best Men thinks ns were “completely and utterly lost” in the 1970s.

“In the ’60s – my earliest memories being born then – there was turbulence and wars and the sexual revolution,” Elliott said. “The ’80s was the information explosion – the internet [was invented] and travel was cheaper.”

Between them was “this incredibly lost decade” before seatbelts, sunscreen and strict supervision of children.

With Elliott working again with Priscilla’s Oscar-winning costume designer Lizzy Gardiner, the film highlights the gaudy fashions of the time – safari suits, facial hair and gold jewellery for the men; pantsuits, giant earrings and big hair for the women.

“It looked like somebody had gone to a Darrell Lea shop and thrown up,” he said. “There was so much colour – terry towelling, plastic this, rayon that.”

A film that will have older viewers fondly recalling their own memories of the ’70s had its world premiere in Sydney on Tuesday night. After a Melbourne premiere on Thursday night, Swinging Safari opens on January 18.

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