Paris is Burning (Film) Review

every-sunset-2

The last movie in our Feminist Film Month (for another year) and we’ve got a special one for you. IMHO, anyway.

Jill and I also accidentally fell in sync on a second movie this weekend, so you can consider this a bit of a double whammy. Why not, eh? (I’ve decided to publish the second film as a separate review because it deserves it, frankly).

First up, our official film of the week.

*Spoilers ahead*

Paris is Burning (1990)

Director: Jennie Livingston
Stars: Brooke Xtravaganza, André Christian, Pepper LeBeija, Octavia St. Laurent

IMDB Synopsis:

A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.

paris1_0

Everybody wants to make an impression, some mark upon the world. Then you think, you’ve made a mark on the world if you just get through it, and a few people remember your name. Then you’ve left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. ~ Dorian Corey

My Review

Chronicling ball room culture in the mid-to-late eighties, Paris is Burning allows us access into the lives of some of the largest characters in the LGBT community as they compete against one another in various competition categories, including “Realness” and “Best House Mother”. And of course, “Voguing”.

Livingston has us follow a band of central characters as they explain this unique and wonderful culture, the history of the dance craze that inspired Madonna’s 1990 track and a helluva lot more, including the meaning of certain well-loved ballroom phrases. “Mopping”, anyone?

As viewers, or “voyeurs” (more on that below), we get to spend quality time with the “houses”, families run by formidable house mothers. We meet Pepper LaBeija, “the last remaining queen of the Harlem drag balls” and head of the House of LaBeija; Dorian Corey, founder of the Voguing House of Corey; the mighty Angie Xtravaganza, Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, and the Godfather of Voguing (and Madge’s inspo), Willi Ninja.

The responsibilities of the mothers are to nurture and protect younger house members as they “come up” on the scene, feed and provide shelter where necessary, and generally perform the duties of a maternal role model – while absolutely smashing it on the ballroom scene themselves. These mothers are strong, amazing women with a whole wealth of life experience behind them, good and bad, bringing together an entire family of individuals badly let down by their own biological families.

PiB has such a positive vibe but does not shy away from the horror and hardship of being gay/trans and black in America during the eighties, especially at the height of the AIDS epidemic when education and understanding was not as advanced as it is today.

paris-boombox
You know it’s the eighties when…Venus, in happier times

Personal favourites for me are Venus Xtravaganza, trans performer and all round sweetheart who earned attention for her lovable turn in the film but was found murdered in 1988, before it was even released.

Venus’ grisly fate is shocking to me, although it should not have been and it’s this great loss, described by heartbroken house-mother Angie, that really drives home the shitty way in which trans people were (and are still) treated.

Octavia St. Laurent too,  the would-be fashion model is a force to be reckoned with and although she idolises the supermodels of the eighties, she’s far more beautiful than any of them. She also kills the “Realness” category with her feminine looks and stunning figure.

There are many topics covered here: racism, poverty, sex work, sex reassignment surgery, AIDS and homophobia so it’s not all flamboyance and great outfits. It’s by no means fluffy but it is fun and warm, touching and eye-opening – and an absolute celebration of self-expression against the odds.

tumblr_o1ylw7takt1qasbnmo1_1280
You tell it like it is, Octavia.

I believe that there’s a big future out there. ~ Octavia St. Laurent

My Thoughts

Once I finished this I couldn’t resist reading up on how it was received on release. It seems apparent that many critics laud this as a thoughtful reflection on race, class, gender and sexuality in America during the 80’s, while others have accused it of being voyeuristic and exploitative.

I wonder how easy it is to get the balance right on a documentary of this nature? Most of the beef lies in the fact that Livingston herself is a white, middle-class woman who has no real business poking around in a world she doesn’t belong in but watching it, I didn’t feel like that. I might be naive, but it felt respectful and kept enough distance from the subjects, who were left to tell their own stories as they saw fit. (This is an interesting article on the debate).

There’s also been some comment about white beauty being held up as the ‘ideal’ and certainly both Venus and Octavia seem drawn to this aesthetic, which seriously sucks. But, despite these criticisms, that have raised some interesting and valid points, I personally thought the film was touching, shocking and extremely enjoyable.

queen2
“You want Pepper with that?”

I’ve tried to keep this review a bit vague so you’re inspired to find out about these characters for yourselves but it’s also because I’m very bad at reviewing documentaries. I can say that I’ve come away with a new-found respect for the community, for the loving way in which they crafted this Wonderland for themselves and a real sadness to learn that the majority of them are no longer with us.

My Rating

5/5 – amazing, sad and genuinely interesting.

Does Jillian want to cast shade on this one, or meet it on the dance floor for a Vogue-off? Find out here

tumblr_o8qq1egcxz1qb5hnqo1_500

If you’re into it, swing over and read my second review of the week, here.

Grey Gardens (Film) Review

enjoy-45

Proof that January is an especially long month is in the fact that this is the fifth film we’ve reviewed within it. And what a way to go out!

Like, I’m officially obsessed with the world of the two Edies and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to delve in. Without further ado, my darlings.

*Spoilers*

Grey Gardens (1975)

Director: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
Stars: Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier, Edith Bouvier Beale

IMDB Synopsis: 

An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.

rawimage
Does every family have a photo that looks like this in their collection? ❤

My Review

Ohmigod, I die. I just die. Grey Gardens is the amazing story of broke-arse double act, Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale who live in a dilapidated mansion of the same name. Grey Gardens, that is.

Aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, their bonkers story first came to light when people found out they were living in abject poverty, while the once magnificent house rotted to the ground around them. I guess nobody can resist the tale of riches to rags, eh?

We meet them when documentary makers David and Albert Maysles visit with their cameras and follow them around, basically letting them do their own thing. This style of film making is made for characters as large as the two women and it’s a joy to behold.

The stories these women share are at once spectacular, funny and desperately sad as it becomes increasingly clear that Little Edie is desperate to get out on her own, where her life can begin again. Big Edie’s ever decreasing health keeps Little Edie home and it’s actually heartbreaking to watch.

0ad357664f7065bfed097695e3c067bf
I might love this woman

The Little Edie we see before us is very different to the girl who claims she nearly married a Kennedy herself. Once absolutely striking and a fashion model in NYC, the still handsome Edie is now completely bald having suffered from alopecia. Not that we see this for ourselves, as she is firmly rocking an enviable collection of headscarves. She has some very strong aesthetic ideas.

This is the best thing to wear for today, you understand. Because I don’t like women in skirts and the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt, I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today. ~ Little Edie

Big Edie is less likable but is this because I feel she ruined her daughter’s life? She was once as she never tires of telling us, a great singer and performer but is now more or less bed bound. Both Edies have a penchant for performance, breaking into song regularly. Little Edie likes a shimmy too.

The women bicker constantly then make up and it’s a somewhat toxic environment in which Edie does most of the donkey work and they have next to no money. I can’t imagine how they survive to be honest, and yet they feed what seems like hundreds of cats.

147_300.jpg
A glimpse into my future?

There’s not an awful lot more I can really say about this film as it all hangs in the relationship between the Edies. Both are as eccentric as it gets and there’s something very sad about how they live, though Big Edie swears she has had a very happy life. Little Edie swears her time is almost done at Grey Gardens but it doesn’t feel like she’ll ever escape her mother’s perpetual guilt trip.

And for all the sympathy you feel for their situation, the two are really quite grotesque. Is it their complete lack of self-awareness, or is it literally that they are swimming around in their own filth? I guess I’ll leave that one up for you to decide.

81mejrnhhol-_sl1500_
“I like big hats and I cannot lie.”

My Thoughts

Grey Gardens to me is the tale of a life unfulfilled thanks to a mother’s smothering love. It’s the story of untapped potential, sacrifice and I don’t know what else. All I really do know is that you can’t make this shit up.

Watch it to find out more please. You won’t regret it.

My Rating

5/5. C’est Magnifique! Fun, fun, fun and crackers.

What does Queen Jillian think of this set up? Does she think it deserves its moment in the sun or would she rather see it condemned? Well, find out here, obviously. ❤

heggn2igp19qihtp1dybhhm3roy

Ps. I got so into the two Edies that immediately afterwards I watched the HBO TV adaptation starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange (I don’t like going out or other people, alright?!).

It’s a pretty accurate re-imagining, inter-spliced with flashbacks of both women’s younger years, the break up of Big Edie’s marriage and Little Edie’s fling with a married man. I enjoyed it very much indeed and it makes a great companion piece to the original documentary.

Amy (Film) Review

Amy_Movie_PosterWhenever I know how a film is going to end, I always watch with hope in my heart. If I can just want it enough, surely I can singlehandedly change the outcome? Alas, my heroic parallel futures only ever occur in my head and the endings inevitably happen just as their creators intended, or in this case, just how they did in real life.

Amy (2015)

Director: Asif Kapadia
Stars: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson

Amy is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Poignant, funny in places, sad, infuriating, joyful. Above all, it is pure heartbreak.

Constructed from video footage collected throughout Amy’s life, it lets us in on the life of one of the world’s greatest talents. Charting the rise and fall, we learn more about Amy’s aversion to fame, more about her destructive relationship with Blake; her lifelong battle with depression, her best friends and the people who surrounded, and loved her to her final day.

It’s really hard not to be mad though by the end. How could this have happened? Why didn’t her family stop her? How could she be gone when she’d finally cleaned up; finally begun to fight back? It’s not fair and that’s the kicker, isn’t it?

I’m not going to go into too much about the film because I hope you see it for yourselves but I will say that it’s beautifully presented, that Amy is treated respectfully throughout. Even in her lowest moments I feel she is portrayed as the vulnerable girl she was, not the punchline to some terrible joke.

It’s easy to click your teeth and want to throw your popcorn at the screen at certain points, particularly when Blake shows up. What I wouldn’t give to smack his face and blame him for everything, especially when he smugly declares on camera that he can do better than Amy, after everything they went through together. But the story isn’t that cut and dry, is it?amy-asifkapadia-photo2

Mitch too. When he tells Amy’s managers that she doesn’t need rehab, it just doesn’t seem like he’s all there. There’s something about him that has never sat right with me but that personal opinion, innit? I’ll never meet him.

It’s not all bad though. It was a real pleasure to spend my rainy Sunday afternoon back in Amy’s company. When Frank was released in 2003, it really struck a chord. Stronger Than Me has been my fighting anthem for over a decade and at different periods, it’s been Winehouse’s vocal that has spurred me on.

Highlights of this documentary are: all of it really. Amy is hilarious. When she succeeds on screen you’ll want to jump up and clap. When she’s performing, you’ll want to dance. When she’s finally gone, I dare you not to feel completely bereft for quite some time afterwards.

Please see it, she deserves to be remembered for so much more than those negative tabloid stories.