Released twenty years ago this year, Paris Is Burning is one of the all-time great music documentaries. It’s not really about music though, it’s about the mid 80’s gay/drag “vogue” subculture that sprung up in New York City, and the adverse social conditions overcome by the contestants (mostly black and Hispanic transvestites and transsexuals). The music is in the background, but plays as important a role as the clothes, the make-up, the settings or the interviews.
This time, this place, and unfortunately most of these people don’t exist anymore. This upload won’t for long either, as it keeps getting yanked - so seriously, if you haven’t watched this film before, watch it now while you can. The director Jennie Livingston has never made another film that garnered as much praise and sadly, for most of the queens involved, this was as famous as they were ever gonna get. Despite being some of the most funny, articulate and charming people ever seen on film. They never had a penny to their names, which is probably why they threw the best parties in the world.
Voguing wasn’t just some hyped up fad that was hot for a New York minute (well, maybe if you are Madonna), - it has a rich, complex history and is just as big a subculture now as it was then, bigger maybe, with the dancing developed to new super-athletic extremes and the balls bolder events. Vogue dancing and vogue balls are an overlooked part of both gay and black history and culture, but more and more they getting the attention and recognition they deserve. Due in so small part to this remarkable film.
As I thought, this film wouldn’t last long on Vimeo. However, someone has thankfully uploaded it to YouTube too: