Paris is Burning
This extraordinary documentary chronicles the elaborately-structured ball culture in which African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender contestants compete. Like fashion models, they “walk” the runways displaying their dance talent, their colorful clothing, and the “realness” of their drag costumes. Interspersed with the shows are interviews with the major participants. Ball contestants who win many trophies earn legendary status. Producer/director Jennie Livingston spent six years in New York filming Paris Is Burning. The result is a cult masterpiece that reveals the Golden Age of New York City drag balls with thoughtful insights of how these participants deal with rejection by their families and most of society.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 100
- Berlin International Film Festival: Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film
- Sundance Film Festival: Grand Jury Prize Documentary
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Documentary
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Documentary
- Seattle International Film Festival: Golden Space Needle Award, Best Documentary
- The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
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PARIS IS BURNING documents a world that was secret until the dance style called ‘voguing’ moved out of the balls and into the more daring of the mainstream clubs. Voguing is, first of all, a highly developed form of expression in which the dancers combine the typical poses of a Vogue model with dance moves and body positions inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, to create pantomimes in which stories are told and statements are made.
Loaded with ironies of the sort that encourage heavy-duty sociological analysis, because virtually every aspect of this community of underdogs imitates some perceived value of the white middle-class heterosexual society from which they feel excluded.
Jennie Livingston’s exuberant and loving documentary is both a celebration and a canny commentary. Delving into the dance poses and acrobatic moves of black and Latino gay men, she enters this highly ritualized subculture with a genuine sense of curiosity and discovery, and is wise enough to let the participants themselves do most of the explaining.
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