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Legendary: Paris Is Burning

Posted by Miss Ess, June 19, 2007 09:12pm | Post a Comment
I watched the fantastic documentary Paris Is Burning this weekend. The film came out in 1991 and focuses on the dazzling Balls that Drag Queens created and participated in during the mid to late 80s in the Harlem Ballrooms of New York City. 

paris is burning drag vogue

The Balls are elaborate and flashy competitions, like a fashion and drag sporting event, complete with gaudy trophies. paris is burning legendary vogueEach person has the opportunity to compete in many different categories. The competition is fierce! Competitors walk/work the runway and are judged loudly and with much enthusiasm on their styles as well as their "Realness"-- how flawlessly they pull off drag.

Complicating and deepening the Ball scene is the division of the Queens into Houses. The Houses are named for different Queens who have been especially successful at the Balls -- they are called, appropriately,  "Legends." The way it is explained in the film is that the Houses are pretty much like willi ninja house of ninja vogue paris is burningBall gangs, each headed up by a Mother who is the most revered, respected member of the House and who provides emotional and aesthetic support to each member. Each House is really like a family. Members know where they can go to get support and advice, whether it's on life or makeup.

There's the House of Ninja, the House of LaBeija, the House of Dupree, the House of Xtravaganza, the House of St. Laurent...so many fabulous Houses! I love that there was a category at the Balls for "Mother of the Year." Perfect. Each House Mother has her moment to parade across and around the floor, but only one wins the coveted trophy.

Despite the gorgeous look and triumphant nature of the Balls, there is an undercurrent of struggle and sadness throughout the documentary. Each person featured in the film has gone through so much, whether it was their parents throwing them out, being an escort, etc. They all have dealt with learning how to be strong in the face of the adversity that many gay/transgendered people experience. One of the main messages was that ultimately everyone wants the same things in life: to love and be loved.

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at the Bwilli ninja house of ninja paris is burning voguealls back in the day! This movie is as close as I'll ever get. There was so much energy and melodrama in the air during the Ball scenes. There was also so much humor, yet Balls were deadly serious at the same time. I wonder if any Balls are still going on today and in what form. [Someone out there reading this must know-- do tell!] I loved getting to see each Queen have her moment on the floor to bask in the glory and spin and pose to great applause and excitement. 

I don't know why I am spoiling the movie for everyone by explaining too much here..It's fab, check it out if you get the chance.

Oh yeah, and the Balls are where Voguing as we know it today came back into style, brought back from the '20s...It was NOT from Madonna...She took it right from the Balls...

This video is a fantastic tribute to Willi Ninja, Mother of the House of Ninja. He explains and demonstrates Voguing:


Have I mentioned I loved this movie?

"Magical....Life's a Ball/So get up on the dance floor!"

Relevant Tags

Drag Queens (1), Paris Is Burning (1), Balls (1)