So a few months back I laid my eyes on this little gem of a movie. Hearing bits n' pieces about it, I never took a real interest in it until I saw a clip on Ka-os's Blog. I've been waiting to post this entry and felt like I came to the ball a bit TOO as 2 days later Paris Dupree Dies, Namesake of Film and Ball
died. I tried to upload the movie but blogger wouldn't allow it, so if you can find it PLEASE watch it!
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 seven 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, AIDS,
For example, some, like Venus
Xtravaganzabecame 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. 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 Malcolm McLaren would,
two years before Paris Is Burning was completed, bring the phenomenon
to the mainstream with his song "Deep In Vogue",
which directly referenced many of the stars of Paris Is Burning including
Pepper Labeija and featured dancers from the film including Willi Ninja. One year after this, Madonna released her number one song Vogue, bringing further attention to the