Paris Is Burning


In 1990, documentary filmmaker Jennie Livingston brought us into the world of “drag nights” for New York City’s underclass of queens. The result was a memorable, sympathetic look into the flamboyant world of Shading, Posing, Reading and Voguing. Happily, this fine work is being released once again to a whole, new world in “Paris Is Burning.”


Laura's Review: A-

Back in 1990, Jennie Livingston's "Paris Is Burning" was a revelation, a document of the voguing balls where mostly poor gay and transgender blacks and Latinos could strut their fantasized selves, many yearning for the white wealth and privilege emphasized by the popular culture of the time. Now Janus Films is reissuing a digital remaster of the academic ratio 16mm film which gave birth to Ryan Murphy's Emmy nominated FX series 'Pose.' The title comes from the name of one of the Harlem balls, but Livingston visited many during the seven years she shot the film. She begins with interviews of House of LaBeija 'mother' Pepper LaBeija, who isn't shy about declaring himself the best and the biggest, one of the scene's 'legends, and Dorian Corey, a drag queen who describes how his profession was the genesis of the balls. The documentary cycles through profile interviews, the balls and scenes on the street where the movement was born and pounced on and popularized by Madonna, whose hit song 'Vogue' was released the same year. We stop several times as big white block letters spell out terms against a black background before someone breaks down their meaning for us. There are various 'houses,' like Xtravaganza, led by a 'mother' who looks out for her children. The houses compete at the balls under different 'categories,' like 'Going to School,' 'Military' or 'Executive,' where competitors are judged for their 'realness' or ability to pass in public. And while the environment is largely supportive, rivalries can become catty and we learn how 'a read' led to 'shade' which itself led to 'voguing,' a means of dancing it out. The culture itself is fascinating, but it is the people within it we really want to spend time with. While some, like Willi Ninja, would turn his ballroom talent into fame and a career, others, like the trusting, soft-spoken Venus Xtravaganza, would become heartbreaking statistics. All these years later, 'Pose' fans will enjoy tracing its characters (not to mention plots) back to their inspirations, 'Pose's' Angel clearly modeled on Octavia Saint Laurent (with a dash of Venus), who we see enter Eileen Ford's annual modeling competition just as Angel did in a recent Season 2 episode. A couple of young kids on the periphery now live in Murphy's House of Evangelista and we see the piers as an all-too-real place. Despite its restoration, "Paris Is Burning" still exhibits 16mm grain, its gritty texture appropriate for the time and subject. Music of the time like Cheryl Lynn's 'Got To Be Real' and the Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams' couldn't be a more appropriate or galvanizing soundtrack. Grade:



Robin's Review: B

Think of Michael Winterbottom’s two (and upcoming third) “The Trip” films, but without the funny, caustic humor of Steve Coogan and Bob Braydon. Change the equation and add the always radiant Diane Lane and a charming performance by Arnaud Viand and first time feature film director, 81-year old Eleanor Coppola makes her own “Trip.” Workaholic Michael puts his movies over his marriage to Anne. She is used to it, though, and agrees to let Jacques drive her to Paris. After all, they should arrive there in time for dinner. But Jacques is a Frenchman to the core and exudes his love for life – food, friends, exploring the countryside and romance are integral to the man. Of course, the first thing he wants to do is stop for lunch. Lunch runs far later than Anne expected and Jacques suggests that they stay at a hotel for the night. She is mildly suspect of Jacques intentions but he is nothing less that a gentleman. The next day, they continue their trip to Paris and Jacques suggests another detour to the ancient Roman aqueduct in Provence. More food, a car full of roses (Anne’s favorite flower) and another overnight stay is in store. The pattern continues and Jacques learns that Anne is a chocoholic, so you can guess that outcome. “Paris Can Wait” is a romantic journey. Then again, it is not. Not only does Anne succumb to Jacques’s Gallic charms, so does the viewer as he shows his companion, unintentionally, how different he is from Michael – in a good way. There is a natural feel between the two leads as they ride the roads and get to know each other’s most intimate secrets. And, we get to know them. This is the kind of road trip movie that is so well done and the two characters so fully realized that I wanted the trip to continue. Winding your way from Cannes to Paris, stopping to stay, eat and sightsee sounds like a pretty darn good vacation to me, especially with Anne and Jacques as fellow travelers.