Combustible Celluloid
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With: Andre Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Dupree, Willi Ninja, Pepper Labeija, Junior Labeija, Venus Xtravaganza
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Jennie Livingston
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 78
Date: 09/13/1990

Paris Is Burning (1991)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Beloved Vogue

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Shot on 16mm, Jennie Livingston's dazzlingly entertaining 1991 documentary captures a portion of Harlem's "drag balls" for outsiders to savor. Drag queens apparently beg, borrow or steal anything they can to dress up and walk in these balls, in the hopes of winning a prize or becoming a star for a night. Many of them privately address the camera and talk about their need for escape and their dreams of real-life stardom. Most drag queens belong to a "house," adopting a fictitious last name, such as "Xtravaganza" or "Ninja," but living with others who care about them. Livingston takes a special interest in the blonde, petit Venus Xtravaganza, who unfortunately dies before the movie finishes shooting. Though Paris Is Burning received overwhelming critical acclaim and enjoyed a relatively successful theatrical run, it was denied an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

DVD Details: Miramax released this film on DVD in 2005, and though the fashions have aged, the ideas and attitudes have not. The disc includes a commentary track and outtakes.

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