Paris Is Burning (film)

Infobox Film
name = Paris Is Burning

caption =
director = Jennie Livingston
producer = Jennie Livingston
co-producer = Barry Swimar
associate producer = Claire Goodman, Meg McLagan"P| line producer = Natalie Hill
cinematography = Paul Gibson
editing = Jonathan Oppenheim
distributor = Miramax Films

released = August 1991
runtime = 78 minutes
country = USA
awards =
language = English
budget = $500,000 USD (estimated)
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0100332

"Paris Is Burning" is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the poor, African American and Latino gay and transgendered community involved in it. Many consider "Paris Is Burning" to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, as well as a thoughtful exploration of race, class, and gender in America.


The film explores the elaborately-structured Ball competitions in which contestants, adhering to a very specific category or theme, must "walk" (much like a fashion model's runway) and subsequently be judged on criteria including the "realness" of their drag, the beauty of their clothing and their dancing ability.

Most of the film alternates between footage of balls and interviews with prominent members of the scene, including Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Anji Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja. Many of the contestants vying for trophies are representatives of "Houses" (in the fashion sense, such as "House of Chanel") that serve as intentional families, social groups, and performance teams. Houses and ball contestants who consistently won in their walks eventually earned a "legendary" status.

Jennie Livingston, who never went to film school and who spent 7 years making "Paris Is Burning", concentrated on interviews with key figures in the ball world, many of whom contribute monologues that shed light on the ball culture as well as on their own personalities. In the film, titles such as "house," "mother," and "reading" emphasize how the subculture the film depicts has taken words from the straight and white worlds, and imbued them with alternate meanings, just as the "houses" serve as surrogate families for young ball-walkers whose sexual orientations have sometimes made acceptance and love within their own families hard to come by.

The film also explores how its subjects dealt with the adversity of racism, homophobia and poverty. For example, some became sex workers, some shoplift clothing, and some were thrown out of their homes by homophobic parents. One was saving money for sex reassignment surgery. Through candid one-on-one interviews the film offers insight into the lives and struggles of its subjects and the strength, pride, and humor they maintain to survive in a "rich, white world."

Drag is presented as a complex performance of gender, class and race, in which one can express one's identity, desires and aspirations along many dimensions (see Drag). The African American and Latino community depicted in the film includes a diverse range of identities and gender presentations, from gay men to butch queens to transsexual women.

The film also documents the origins of "voguing", a dance style in which competing ball-walkers freeze and "pose" in glamorous positions (as if being photographed for the cover of "Vogue"). Pop star Madonna would, one year before "Paris Is Burning" was completed, bring the phenomenon to the mainstream with her number one song "Vogue".

Critical reception

Upon its release the documentary received rave reviews from critics and won several awards. Some notable raves include Terrence Rafferty writing in the New Yorker, prominent Black gay poet Essex Hemphill writing in The Guardian, and filmmaker Michelle Parkerson writing for The Black Film Review. Outrage ensued when "Paris Is Burning" failed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature that year.Fact|date=October 2007

Long out of print on videocassette, the film was finally released on DVD in 2005.

"Paris Is Burning" is frequently used as a study tool in university classes on film, cultural and critical studies, African American and Latino studies, queer and gender studies, anthropology, and dance.

Livingston has agreed that she was able to do this documentary because of her social standing as "educated" and "white", whilst the drag queens would not have had access to the grants and financial aids necessary to the making of the film. [ Paris Has Burned - New York Times ] ] Moreover, it has been said that whilst the documentary made a film-maker out of Livingston, the drag queens remained in the same financially-strapped and discriminated-against position as before the film.


* When interview subject Dorian Corey died in 1993, a mummified corpse was discovered in a trunk in her apartment. The body, which had been there for at least 20 years, was identified as Robert Worley (aka Robert Wells). ["The Drag Queen and the Mummy", by Edward Conlon; Transition, No. 65 (1995), pp. 4-24; doi:10.2307/2935316]
* Most of the film was completed in 1990, but the movie still lacked titles, as the filmmakers had no money to do titles or to create a proper print in which sound and picture were married. (For this reason, when "Paris Is Burning" had its film premiere, at the Frameline Festival in San Francisco, at the Castro Theater, the film was shown in "double system" (sound and picture running separately) and there was a 10 minute break for a reel change.) When the film was accepted to Sundance, the filmmakers created a 7 minute credit sequence, which included outtakes from the film, including Chipper Corey's inspired lipsync performance of "Over the Rainbow". Several sources, such as IMDB, credit the film as having been completed in 1990, but in 1990 it was 7 minutes shorter.


* 1990 IDA Award, International Documentary Association
* 1990 LAFCA Award Best Documentary, Los Angeles Film Critics Association
* 1990 Audience Award Best Documentary, San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
* 1991 Grand Jury Prize Documentary, Sundance Film Festival
* 1991 Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film, Berlin International Film Festival
* 1991 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (BSFC) Best Documentary
* 1991 the very first "Open Palm Award", now called Breakthrough Director Award Gotham Awards
* 1991 NYFCC Award Best Documentary, New York Film Critics Circle Awards
* 1991 Golden Space Needle Award Best Documentary, Seattle International Film Festival
* 1992 Outstanding Film (Documentary), GLAAD Media Awards
* 1992 NSFC Award Best Documentary, National Society of Film Critics

Notable personalities in "Paris Is Burning"

*Dorian Corey
*Pepper LaBeija
*Willi Ninja
*Octavia St. Laurent
*Angie Xtravaganza
*Venus Xtravaganza

ee also

*Ball culture

External links

* [ From the "New Yorker Magazine filmfile"]


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