When, in 1983, NYU film student Jennie Livingston caught up with some queer kids performing what would later be called voguing in Washington Square Park. She probably didn’t imagine it would give birth to the most influential documentary of drag ball culture, Paris is Burning.
Now, the Criterion Collection has announced it will be re-releasing the film in February next year, complete with audio commentary, a conversation between the film’s director Jennie Livingston, filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, and ballroom members Sol Pendavis and Freddie Pendavis (who starred in the original film).
The iconic documentary Paris is burning will be extended by more than an hour of unseen cuts. You better work it!
Most excitingly though, the film will screen with an hour of extra footage. Jennie Livingston recorded over 75 hours of footage throughout the film’s production, so we can expect even more in a near future.
Made over seven years, PARIS IS BURNING offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. pic.twitter.com/I0VFaqTNOJ
— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) November 15, 2019
Paris is Burning is a hallucinatory dive into Harlem’s queer nightlife, mostly made up of African American and Latin gay and transgender performers. Its magnificent characters are the architects of a phenomenon that, three decades later, continues to inspire mainstream culture, from RuPaul’s Drag Race to wider fashion. Paris is Burning is also about appropriation and white privilege.
The categories that contestants walked, in from “Butch Queen” to “High Fashion Model Parisienne”, were competitions to exist in an ephemeral social sphere that — because of gender, politics, sexuality and race — excluded the LGBTQIA+ African American and Latino communities. And these issues haven’t aged a bit in 30 years, or so it would seem.