Customer Reviews: Paris Is Burning
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on March 20, 2000
In the beginning of this film, one of the commentators says that he was told that he has two strikes against him: he is black and male. But in addition to that, he has a third strike: he's gay. "You're going to have to be stronger than you ever imagined," he is told. "Paris is Burning" is a documentary about gay black and Hispanic men who are tranvestites (men who dress in women's clothing) or transsexuals (people who have The Operation and become, biologically, the opposite sex). They come together and hold "balls" in which they compete in categories like "Executive Realness," "Opulence," and "the Boy Who Robbed You a Few Minutes before Arriving at the Ball." Although several of these categories seem like a satire of society at large, we are told by elder stateswoman/cynic/voice of reason Dorian Corey that "this isn't a parody or take-off. They are very seriously trying to pass as what they are dressing up as." The miracle of "Paris is Burning" is that director Jennie Livingston takes a subject that could have very easily become a freak show and allows the people in it their humanity. We learn their views of homosexuality, men, women, their hopes, their disappointments, their dreams. [...]
This is not a film for everyone. There are shots in this movie of nude transsexuals. It is definitely not for children, and if you have a problem with homosexuality, then this movie isn't for you, either. But if you do see this movie you'll realize "Paris is Burning" isn't really about men wearing women's clothes, it's about a group of people who are routinely marginalized and put down by society at large, and what they do to get a sense of community in their lives.
I've watched this movie four times since it was released in 1991, because it says so many things: it's a commentary about materialism in our culture, about gender roles, about rich and poor people, about the media and what it celebrates, about fame and adulation. "Paris is Burning" is one of the most humane, and one of the saddest, movies I've ever seen.
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on November 29, 2005
It's hard to believe that the goings on in Paris Is Burning is almost 20 years old. I saw it in a Midtown Atlanta theater in 1992, and was just blown away by it. The whole notion that people scrabble for a bare existence 99% of their time so they can shine for 1% sounds cute or depressing or trite, depending on your current level of treacle versus cynicism... But once you see people honest to God living that way, that patronizing distance is gone. A really good film. Really, really good.
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on October 28, 2005
I first saw this movie in 1991 during my first week at Hampshire College at some theater in Northampton Massachussetts. I was about 17 and had just come out as a latino gay male. I cannot begin to tell you how this movie impacted my life. Paris is Burning has given be comic material and one-liners for well over a decade. Regardless of class, race, or gender, my circle of friends can recite at least one brilliant line from the movie. The DVD has new outtakes and some choice commentary by the very wise and articulate Dorian Corey. Dorian discusses the lack of imagination that exists among today's youth as a result of their reliance on popular media for entertainment. Furthermore, the "ball scene" is a parody of the social paradigm, where roles are played and an outfit, designer label, or the ability to "pass", brings the marginalized individual one step closer to the "American Dream", if only for that fleeting moment on the ballroom floor. "At one time or another we have all lusted to walk a ballroom floor".
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on October 11, 2005
I LOVE this movie and have had the VHS for years.

I can't believe the tape hasn't broke yet from viewing

it so much. I am SO GLAD to finally see that it's on DVD

and I can buy another copy!

Pepper LaBeija - Pepper LaBeija :-) Ives St. Laurent of course!
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on March 19, 2000
Excellent documentary showing how young, gay, poor, urban, black and Latino kids desperately want to fit in somewhere. The balls are vehicles for these kids to pretend that they are not outsiders. View it with an open mind and you'll be moved.
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on April 10, 2004
Reading many of the reviews I'm saddened to see that most people today don't know that the House scene, still is, alive and very well. The Los Angeles House scene, yes modeled from that of the NY scene, is 11 houses and strong, with many fierce, and fabulous balls to brag about baby. Although most of the categories have been modified and simplified with a lil' L.A. flava our balls hold true to where we first began.
Many of the House family members display their voguing in the L.A. hip hop club scene. However our style of voguing has changed slightly, we 'chop', 'sha-blam', and 'shut 'em down' with ol' school/new school flava. Enjoying our unity as a community, a family, and as a people. See you at the next ball.
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on March 3, 2003
Indeed this film is about marginalization, impossible dreams, etc., but while the tragic aspect is there, the reviewer from Tokyo is right -- this film may also be one of the most uplifting ever made. I must add, this film is actually an important visual document of classic music from the NYC "Paradise Garage" club era and of that dance style known as "Voguing" -- like rare footage from the era of Birdland and lindy-hopping, or of breakdancing in the early 1980's, the film captures something which can only be seen to be understood. Madonna co-opted it but here one sees its essence, and rarely elsewhere. It is an indispensable VISUAL and AURAL historical document.
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on October 17, 2005
I remember seeing this movie when it first came out in the early nineties. To a (much younger) black gay man at the time it was a hugely significant piece of work. Looking at it more than ten years later now, I feel it's just as significant if only in a historical context. If any black gay man no matter where he lives in the world, wants to get a taste of what life was like for many of his peers back then in New York City, then this is a must. I was there (albeit very briefly) and I can't think of a more accurate snapshot. This one should definitely go into the time capsule!
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on November 12, 2015
Paris is Burning has always been a curious look into Ball room culture among the urban gay community and otherwise. It has always defined acceptance within this community in relationship to the outside world. What I find sad is the deaths of each of the major characters. Dorian Corey's death and perhaps a murder investigation (a dead body found in her apt) Angus Xtravaganza death due to AIDS, Venus Xtravaganza, murdered. Octavia , cancer? Pepper Labeija diabetes complications. Willie Ninja AIDS?? Paris Dupree who's death is questionable. As a person who understands the lifestyle I cannot understand why a lifestyle that is fought for and the fantasies that are so unreachable to some is ended with such very sad!!!!
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on March 19, 2016
I have not watched this in years so I was so excited to see it on here. It was like watching it for the first time. I'm going to warn you that it looks like someone filmed it in their basement with a crappy camera, with a budget of $1.55 and then made a copy of a copy of a vhs tape that was left out in the sun. But you MUST get over that and watch this rare gem anyway. You won't be sorry. And don't worry about not being able to get into it if you are straight. I am not gay but the characters are so easy to relate to. Don't we all just want to be accepted and live out our fantasies? That's what the ball scene represented to these drag families. Shows like Rupaul's Drag Race have brought drag and lbgtq culture into the mainstream, but this documentary gives a rare glimpse into the scene when it was still underground. We get to know people who have been shunned by their family, beaten up by people who clock them, and struggle to get by financially because of their sexuality or gender identity. At night, they can live out their fantasies of being rich and famous at the extravagant balls. They show off their talents in fashion, dancing, runway walking, costume design, and vogueing. Learn all about throwing shade, reading, opulence, and extravaganza. Again, the production value is awful, but this is truly ahead of its time.
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