Wednesday Rewind: Paris Is Burning by @Chinablue79

This lively, funky documentary charts the lives of poor, black, gay and transgendered men in mid-80s New York. So far, so worthy, you might think, but you couldn't be further from the truth. I’ve yet to see any film, fictional or factual, that had such a palpable sense of joie de vivre in the face of unforgiving circumstances as Paris Is Burning.

The story centres on a "scene" of men, young and old, gathering in halls up and down the city, parading in massive glitzy frocks, business-man suits and military uniforms. They form gangs or "houses", named after a particular designer (eg Lacroix) and compete against each other, using fabulousness and competitive dance. This is where vogueing originated: stylised fashion model poses and break dance-style contortions. The MC keeps order with withering putdowns and the so-called ‘upcoming legendary children’ strut their stuff, aiming either to convincingly pass as straight in a middle-class corporate or military world ("realness") or as female. Where do they get the amazing outfits from, you might ask: they beg, borrow, make and use the good, old five-finger discount. Sadly, the latter is also how quite a few of these individuals eat.

Why is it my favourite movie? It takes a little-known subject, set against the unrelenting greyness and hardness of New York, and brings to vivid life the lengths people will go to escape their harsh realities: men who can’t make next week’s rent argue over whether the designer mink they’re wearing is a man’s or woman’s coat; the jaw-droppingly beautiful (late) Octavia St Laurent points to pictures of models on her bedroom wall and tells us her dreams of making it as a model; others daydream about becoming ‘real’ women and finding love; one talented dancer finds fame (thanks to the late Malcolm McLaren); and, for balance, we have the weary old-timer who laments "how things used to be".

There’s a real sense of ‘what happens next?’ and an insight into how other people live that’s rare in lesser documentaries. The intimacy leaves you feeling like an intruder, but the spirit of these men, seeing them transcend their lives through love of pomp, show and art also uplifts you; and any film that has ‘Another Man’ by Barbara Mason and Cheryl Lynn’s ‘Got To Be Real’ as unofficial soundtrack is okay with me.

I’ll leave you with one of the many choice quotes from the film – a motto for life if there ever was one: ‘Is it realness or not? Make it muthaf**kin’ hot’.

No comments:

Post a Comment