tv in the 2010s: the half-hours, part three
music friday: spotify wrapped 2019

film fatales #67: paris is burning (jennie livingston, 1990)

This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 13 is called "New Queer Cinema Week":

The second in a series celebrating challenges from past seasons, this challenge comes to us from kurt k's Counterfeit Letterboxd Season Challenge: 2016-17. The original description:

"Pride season is finally starting! This is a week that I know a couple of people (including me) have wanted. New Queer Cinema is a movement that started mainly around the late 80's to early 90's, where a bunch of LGBTQ film makers started creating independent movies that often dealt with rejection of a hetero-normative and cis-normative lifestyle. These movies don't sum up every LGBTQ person's experience, but I would say that it speaks to us."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen New Queer Cinema film.

Paris Is Burning is a documentary about balls held by the LGBTQ community. It was filmed in the late-80s, and represents the ball culture of that time. To the extent it is an accurate representation, it serves as an important artifact of the culture. It is an artifact, though ... director Jennie Livingston was not part of the culture herself, although she was/is an out lesbian. She and her film are sympathetic to the people she shows us, but it matters for some that she's an observer rather than a participant, always the interviewer, never the interviewee.

Paris Is Burning celebrates the balls and performers. They are presented as artists who take pride in their work. Of course, the balls aren't the whole world, and when the outside world marks its spots, the film turns tragic, most specifically in the case of Venus Xtravaganza, who is one of the most disarmingly lovely people in the movie. She talks about her dreams, and also about the things she does to survive (prostitution being the main thing). We learn near the end of the film that she was murdered, a case that has never been solved.

Many of the people strive to emulate the straight world in their performances, which automatically has an ironic distancing effect. But Venus also says, "I would like to be a spoiled rich white girl. They get what they want, whenever they want it. They don't have to really struggle with finances, nice things, nice clothes, and they don't have to have that as a problem."

Livingston has never released another feature that she directed, although she has made shorts, taught, won fellowships, and was a consultant on the TV series Pose.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)


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