I arrived in New York just in time to hit the Hellfire club a few times before it went away and I whiled away many nights at Paddles and numerous private play parties so it’s weird that I just recently got around to seeing “Paris is Burning”. I’m glad I don’t read reviews prior to seeing films as there is a ton of all-over-the-map commentary about this one (Quentin Crisp, really??? You cannot have meant most of that).
These are people I know and have hung out with many nights over the years. They’re every bit as sharp, funny, alive, and unyielding as Jennie Livingston presents them. And they still live in a world that continues to denigrate their experience, saying they are not really people. It’s no wonder that so many were obsessively focused on attaining worldwide fame and lots of shiny things. Why should they be any different than the majority of Americans?
To the criticism of exploitation, I call bullshit. Livingston was invited to the balls. She and her camera were welcomed. How were these fabulous, vibrant performers going to get famous without their own camera? Livingston spent years getting the raw footage and then the better part of another decade managing to piece together the post-production work whenever she was able to fund it.
What she has captured is unsentimental and without false pity. It has to be said that this is a pretty raw documentary that can feel like it skims the surface of some fascinating and complex lives. “Kiki” with Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Chi Chi Mizrahi, Gia Marie Love, came out in 2016 and goes back to Christopher Street to see how the kids are doing today. I’ll have to check that out.
In the meantime, “Paris is Burning” will be on my to-see-again list.
Venus Xtravaganza on the pier
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Widening my horizons: