Paris Is Burning (1991)

78 mins | Documentary | 13 March 1991

Full page view
HISTORY

A title card at the opening of the film reads “New York 1987.” Title cards with names of participants, names of “houses” and “categories,” and ball-related slang terms are interspersed throughout the documentary.
       According to the 22 Aug 1991 WSJ review, the film was partially funded by a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Producer-director Jennie Livingston, who worked on the project for five years, first became interested in “drag balls” after moving to New York City and seeing young black men “voguing” in Washington Square Park, as stated in a 27 Sep 1991 Durham, NC, The Herald-Sun article. Livingston later filmed balls at the Elks Lodge of Harlem, and the Harlem YMCA. The title Paris Is Burning is taken from the name of an annual ball at which much of the footage was shot.
       The film opened on 13 Mar 1991 at New York City’s Film Forum theater, where it was initially slated for a two-week engagement. The run was extended when it became a “cult hit,” according to a 7 Apr 1991 NYT article, which reported Paris Is Burning had set a record for the Film Forum’s highest one-day gross for a single picture, on a Saturday in Mar 1991.
       The 22 Aug 1991 WSJ review stated national distribution was held up by a music rights dispute. However, it was settled in time for a 9 Aug 1991 release in Los Angeles, CA. By 27 Sep 1991, the Durham, NC, The Herald-Sun reported box-office earnings of $2.7 million to date.
       Critical reception was ... More Less

A title card at the opening of the film reads “New York 1987.” Title cards with names of participants, names of “houses” and “categories,” and ball-related slang terms are interspersed throughout the documentary.
       According to the 22 Aug 1991 WSJ review, the film was partially funded by a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Producer-director Jennie Livingston, who worked on the project for five years, first became interested in “drag balls” after moving to New York City and seeing young black men “voguing” in Washington Square Park, as stated in a 27 Sep 1991 Durham, NC, The Herald-Sun article. Livingston later filmed balls at the Elks Lodge of Harlem, and the Harlem YMCA. The title Paris Is Burning is taken from the name of an annual ball at which much of the footage was shot.
       The film opened on 13 Mar 1991 at New York City’s Film Forum theater, where it was initially slated for a two-week engagement. The run was extended when it became a “cult hit,” according to a 7 Apr 1991 NYT article, which reported Paris Is Burning had set a record for the Film Forum’s highest one-day gross for a single picture, on a Saturday in Mar 1991.
       The 22 Aug 1991 WSJ review stated national distribution was held up by a music rights dispute. However, it was settled in time for a 9 Aug 1991 release in Los Angeles, CA. By 27 Sep 1991, the Durham, NC, The Herald-Sun reported box-office earnings of $2.7 million to date.
       Critical reception was largely positive. The film received numerous awards, including Best Documentary awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, an Audience Award at the San Francisco Gay Film Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Several contemporary sources, including the 26 Mar 1992 LAT, lamented its omission from that year’s Academy Award nominations.
       The film concludes with the following dedication: “In memory of David Baer, Kevin Sutton, Lee Marks, Richard Roland Livingston.” End credits include the following statements: “Partially funded by: National Endowment for the Arts; Jerome Foundation; New York State Council for the Arts; New York Foundation for the Arts; Paul Robeson Fund; Edelman Fund; Art Matters, Inc.”; “Very special thanks: David Byrne, Gertrude Cohn, Nigel Finch, Martha Gallahue, Ruth Greenberg, Vanessa Haney, Kevin Hills, Davis Lacy, the Livingston family, Mrs. Lee Marks, Meg McLagan, Josie Oppenheim, Hannah and Alan Pakula”; “Special thanks: Eric Albertson, Audio Services, Mark Balit, Martin Bell, Louis Boorstin, Anna Boorstin, Steven Broadway, Pieter Jan Brugge, Bunty and Lady Bunnington, Ceco, Marcel Christian, Fred Cohen, Elise Contarsy, Lisa Cortez, Eddie Deitch, Terry Dewhirst, Chip Duckett, Johnny Dynell Xtravaganza, The Elks Lodge of Harlem, Carol Ellingsen, Pat Field, Molly Fowler, Gay Men of African Descent, Debbie Geller, Faye Ginsburg, Gary Glickman, Richard Goldstein, Catherine Hall, Linda Hansen, Keith Haring, The Harlem YMCA, Betsy Hauser, Werner Herzog, Kay Houlihan, Ellen Hovde, John Howell, Terry Jentz, Lillian Jiminez, Jenny Kane, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, David Leavitt, Fran Lebowitz, David Lee, Paul Martino, Thornton Matheson, Roland Mesa, Maysles Films, Mediaworks, Inc., Men of All Colors Together, Adam Merims, Muffie Meyer, Jamie Midgely, Rebecca Miller, Burt Minkoff, Paul Minx, Molly and Lulu, Michael Moon, Pat Moran, The Mothers and the Children, Donald and Susan Newhouse, Esther Newton, Pakula Productions, Ida Panicelli, Tod Papageorge, Bruce Pearsawl, Lynn Piaseki, Jody Pinto, The Rockefeller University, Tony Rossi, Vito Russo, Karen Sachs, Victoria Schultz, Jamie Shapiro, Loren Smith, Susan Solt, Steven Spriggs, Ron Stone, Donald Suggs, Larry and Leah Superstein, Julie Talen, Howard Thomas, The Universe, Chichi Valenti, Barbara Van Dyke, John Waters, Pavel Wdowczak, Gerald Wen, Frederick Wiseman, Jacky Woodson, Irwin Young.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 1991
p. 8, 26.
Los Angeles Times
9 Aug 1991
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
2 Feb 1992
Calendar, p. 87.
Los Angeles Times
26 Mar 1992
Section J, p. 3.
New York Times
13 Mar 1991
Section C, p. 13.
New York Times
7 Apr 1991.
---
The Herald-Sun [Durham, NC]
27 Sep 1991
Preview, pp. 20-21.
Variety
15 Oct 1990
p. 78.
WSJ
22 Aug 1991.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Production of Off White Productions Inc.
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Addl assoc producing
Exec prod
for BBC Television, London
Exec prod
for WNYC Television, New York
PHOTOGRAPHY
2d unit cam
Addl camerawork
Addl camerawork
Addl camerawork
Addl camerawork
Asst cam
Asst cam
Addl cam asst
Addl cam asst
Addl cam asst
Addl cam asst
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Graphic des
Graphic des
FILM EDITORS
Addl ed
Assoc ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative matching
SOUND
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Addl sd rec
Sd mix, London
Color Services
Sd mix, New York
Todd AO
Sd transfers
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles
Design Workshop at the Glass Farmhouse
Opticals
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Legal advice
Silverstein, Langer, Lipner, & Newburgh
Legal advice
Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz
SOURCES
SONGS
"Is It All Over My Face?" performed by Loose Joints, Sugar Biscuits Music, Inc. (ASCAP), West End Records
"Sundance," composed and performed by Kitaro, Amuse America, Inc./Kitaro Music Publishing (ASCAP), Geffen Records
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," by A. Lennox and D. Stewart, performed by The Eurythmics, B.M.G. Songs, Inc. (ASCAP), RCA Records
+
SONGS
"Is It All Over My Face?" performed by Loose Joints, Sugar Biscuits Music, Inc. (ASCAP), West End Records
"Sundance," composed and performed by Kitaro, Amuse America, Inc./Kitaro Music Publishing (ASCAP), Geffen Records
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," by A. Lennox and D. Stewart, performed by The Eurythmics, B.M.G. Songs, Inc. (ASCAP), RCA Records
"The Show," by R. Walters and D. Davis, performed by Doug E. Fresh, Entertaining Music/Slick Rick Music/Danica (BMI), Reality Records/Danya Records, Ltd.
"Never Never Gonna Give You Up," performed, produced and conducted by Barry White, Unichappel Music/Sa-Vette/Super Songs Unltd. (BMI), Polygram Records
"Move Your Body," composed and performed by Marshall Jefferson, produced and arranged by Virgo, Sanlar Publishing (BMI), Trax Records, distributed by Precision Records
"Love Hangover," by P. Sawyer and M. McLeod, performed by Diana Ross, Jobete (ASCAP)/MCA Records
"Silent Morning," by N. Pagan, performed by Noel, Noel Pagan Music (ASCAP), 4th and Broadway Records, distributed by Island Records
"Triumphal March" from "Aida," by G. Verdi, performed by The Festival Symphony Orchestra, H.J. Walther, Conductor, Columbia Records
"Over The Rainbow," by E.Y. Harburg and H. Arlen, performed by Patti LaBelle, Philadelphia International Records, EMI Fiest Cat., Inc. (ASCAP), distributed by CBS Records
"Deep In Vogue," by M. McLaren, performed by Malcolm McLaren and the Bootzilla Orchestra, Epic Records
"Love Is The Message," by Gamble and Huff, performed by MFSB, Mighty Three Music/Warner Tamerlane (BMI), Philadelphia International Records
"Got To Be Real," by C. Lynn, D. Paich and D. Foster, performed by Cheryl Lynn, Butterfly/Gong Music (BMI), Hudmar Pub. Co., Inc./Cotaba Music (ASCAP), Columbia Records
"I Am What I Am," from "La Cage aux Folles," music/lyrics by J. Herman, Jerryco Music (ASCAP)
"Another Man Is Beating My Time," performed by Barbara Mason, Family Productions/Sugar Biscuits (ASCAP), West End Records
"Who's Zoomin' Who," by N.M. Walden, P. Glass and A. Franklin, performed by Aretha Franklin, Perfection Light Prods, Inc./Gratitude Sky Music (ASCAP), Arista Records
"Let No Man Put Asunder," by B. Hawes and B. Cray, performed by First Choice, Blackwood Music/Industrial Strength Music (BMI), distributed by G.W. Productions and Rams Horn Records, CBS Records
"I'll House You," by R. Kiper, performed by The Jungle Brothers, Tonk Music/Prodisc Music/Red Alert Music (BMI), Idlers Records.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 March 1991
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 March 1991
Los Angeles opening: 9 August 1991
Production Date:
1987--1989
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Prints
DuArt Laboratories
Duration(in mins):
78
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1987 New York City, African American and Hispanic gay men and transsexual women attend balls, where participants compete for trophies by dressing according to specific fashion categories and walking a runway. Some competitions involve “voguing,” a style of dance that incorporates poses like the ones seen in Vogue fashion magazine. According to veteran “Dorian Corey,” the original balls were smaller affairs. “Pepper LaBeija” says early ball participants were “drag queens” who dressed like Las Vegas, Nevada, showgirls; however, the younger generation of ball-goers want to look like fashion models. While gay men and transsexuals, especially those who are not white, are often marginalized and mistreated in daily life, as one man puts it, the balls offer them the chance to feel “100% right about being gay.” Categories of competition include a variety of styles, such as “Military,” in which participants dress and conduct themselves like soldiers; “Town and Country,” based on the high-society magazine of the same name; “High Fashion Eveningwear”; “Pretty Girl”; and, “Executive Realness,” in which participants dress like businessmen or businesswomen. “Realness” is a term used to describe the authenticity of one’s look. “Passing” has a similar meaning, indicating that a participant can pass for something they are not, based on how they look. Other terms coined by ball-goers include “reading,” which is the act of insulting someone, usually based on their appearance; “shade,” a more subtle form of reading in which insults are not overtly stated but implied; “mopping,” another word for stealing; and “banjee,” which describes a “street punk” look. Many participants belong to “houses,” or “gay street gangs,” as described by one member. Houses include: LaBeija, Xtravaganza, Saint ... +


In 1987 New York City, African American and Hispanic gay men and transsexual women attend balls, where participants compete for trophies by dressing according to specific fashion categories and walking a runway. Some competitions involve “voguing,” a style of dance that incorporates poses like the ones seen in Vogue fashion magazine. According to veteran “Dorian Corey,” the original balls were smaller affairs. “Pepper LaBeija” says early ball participants were “drag queens” who dressed like Las Vegas, Nevada, showgirls; however, the younger generation of ball-goers want to look like fashion models. While gay men and transsexuals, especially those who are not white, are often marginalized and mistreated in daily life, as one man puts it, the balls offer them the chance to feel “100% right about being gay.” Categories of competition include a variety of styles, such as “Military,” in which participants dress and conduct themselves like soldiers; “Town and Country,” based on the high-society magazine of the same name; “High Fashion Eveningwear”; “Pretty Girl”; and, “Executive Realness,” in which participants dress like businessmen or businesswomen. “Realness” is a term used to describe the authenticity of one’s look. “Passing” has a similar meaning, indicating that a participant can pass for something they are not, based on how they look. Other terms coined by ball-goers include “reading,” which is the act of insulting someone, usually based on their appearance; “shade,” a more subtle form of reading in which insults are not overtly stated but implied; “mopping,” another word for stealing; and “banjee,” which describes a “street punk” look. Many participants belong to “houses,” or “gay street gangs,” as described by one member. Houses include: LaBeija, Xtravaganza, Saint Laurent, Pendavis, and Ninja. The houses are led by “mothers,” who have often earned “legendary” status for winning many trophies at the balls. The mothers take care of house members, many of whom have been cut off from their families, or have run away from home, because of their sexuality. Pepper LaBeija, mother of the House LaBeija, claims the balls have allowed him an exciting life despite never achieving riches or fame. He is glad he never had a sex change and fears some of the young ball-goers think becoming a woman will make their lives easier. Balls celebrate high fashion, but participants are often poor and sometimes homeless. Those who cannot afford costumes steal, or “mop,” them. Many, including a light-skinned, effeminate participant named “Venus Xtravaganza,” prostitute themselves for money. Like many ball-goers, Venus dreams of one day achieving fame and wealth as a high fashion model. “Octavia Saint Laurent,” who has similar aspirations, is seen posing for photographs for her modeling portfolio and attending a model search conducted by Eileen Ford, the head of Ford Models, Inc. Octavia idolizes the supermodel Paulina Porizkova and hopes to become a “full-fledged woman” within the next year. “Brooke Xtravaganza,” who has undergone plastic surgery and a sex change, feels like she can finally “close the closet door” and be herself. By 1989, voguing and balls have gained popularity. A ball with celebrity judges is held to raise money for AIDS-related organizations. “Willi Ninja,” known for his voguing, has become a successful choreographer and performer, appearing in Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep In Vogue” music video. Willi says balls have become more toned down, and he worries they are missing the “street element” they once had. He says New York City, as a whole, has undergone similar changes. “Angie Xtravaganza,” mother of the House of Xtravaganza, laments that Venus Xtravaganza was murdered by a “john” in a sleazy hotel room. She misses Venus, who was her “main daughter,” but acknowledges that the threat of being murdered is part of the life of a transsexual. After decades of participating in balls, Dorian Corey recalls how he once dreamed of becoming a star. He now believes that a person leaves his mark on the world just by surviving, and thinks it is better just to enjoy life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.