Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother -- a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more -- culled from 19 years of his life.
This is a documentary of 'drag nights' among New York's underclass. Queens are interviewed and observed preparing for and competing in many 'balls'. The people, the clothes, and the whole environment are outlandish. Written by
Robbie Smith <email@example.com>
A young Pepper LaBeija can be seen very briefly as a contestant in the 1968 documentary The Queen, about a drag beauty pageant held in New York City. The legendary Crystal LaBeija, original mother and founder of the House of LaBeija, is also featured giving a fierce and shady reading. See more »
I always had hopes of being a big star. But as you get older, you aim a little lower. Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you've made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you've left a mark. You don't have to bend the whole world. I think it's better to just enjoy it. Pay your dues, and just enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.
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In the beginning of this film, one of the commentators says that he was told that he has two strikes against him: he is black and male. But in addition to that, he has a third strike: he's gay. "You're going to have to be stronger than you ever imagined," he is told. "Paris is Burning" is a documentary about gay black and Hispanic men who are tranvestites or transsexuals.
The miracle of "Paris is Burning" is that director Jennie Livingston takes a subject that could have very easily become a freak show and allows the people in it their humanity. We learn their views of homosexuality, men, women, their hopes, their disappointments, their dreams. Some of these dreams are so unattainable it's tragic. Many of the people are seriously in denial;
This is not a film for everyone. There are shots in this movie of nude transsexuals. If you have a problem with homosexuality, then this movie isn't for you. But if you do see this movie you'll realise "Paris is Burning" isn't really about men wearing women's clothes, it's about a group of people who are routinely marginalised and put down by society at large, and what they do to get a sense of community in their lives.
I've watched this movie four times since it was released in 1991, because it says so many things: it's a commentary about materialism in our culture, about gender roles, about rich and poor people, about the media and what it celebrates, about fame and adulation. "Paris is Burning" is one of the most humane, and one of the saddest, movies I've ever seen.
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