Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Paris is Burning


I had never heard of Paris is Burning until Nate announced it was part of his Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.  Since I've been embracing documentaries as of late, I was pretty excited to learn something new about a subject that I'm very unfamiliar with; the drag scene of the late 80's.  I can't say that I was particularly taken with this film, but this isn't really about the film itself but about the imagery within the film, and so I have to note that I was pretty taken by the way in which many of the film's key scenes were staged and shot.  

While watching Paris is Burning, I kept being reminded that documentary filmmaking is such a direct way of using imagery to explore and explain; a way to understand a particular subject through the art of exposure.  For me, Paris is Burning used personified this in the way in which it made you a direct part of the action.  It consumed you, it swirled around you but most impactfully, it reached out and touched you.  The broad gestures and commanding presence filled every ounce of screen and made this extremely closed in photography feel larger and broader than it was.

Every turn of the catwalk, every jeer from the crowd, ever hoot and holler felt so full and explosive.

I responded to this tactic in terms of filmmaking because it felt wholly invested in the purpose of the film itself.  

So, there were a countless number of screenshots that showed this fullness of presence, but for me the one that stuck with me the most was actually one of the very first shots.


Before we even see the Ball, before we even see the inside of this club and the attention grabbing antics, our attention is grabbed by the presence of Pepper Labeija as she makes her way to center stage.  There is something about the way that she completely takes up the whole frame, allowing just the tiniest amount of light to come through, that feels so telling of the remainder of the film.  It's almost as if she's being drawn to the light, it's presence peering out over her shoulder.  

This is a film about big personalities all seeking a way to express themselves and be heard, be accepted and be special.  This is a film about stepping out into the spotlight.

18 comments:

  1. Haven't even heard of this, but it sounds fun.

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    1. It's definitely a one of a kind doc.

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  2. love miss pepper's entrance - she's so bossy "learn it and learn it well!" and your shot makes her look like an exotic bird from another documentary.

    it's interesting that you say that you've never heard of it since it has a pretty large presence in gay culture (my friend has been making me watch it for years). but love that film can introduce us to the lives of different people that we wouldn't be aware of otherwise.

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    1. I'm starting to feel like I live under a rock or something, but I'm serious...I never heard of this before Nate brought it to my attention. I'm glad he did.

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    1. I'd be intrigued by your thoughts on it.

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  4. Pepper Labeija obviously has the best drag name (and probably the best clothes in the film), but I went with a different queen for my shot. Love her entrance, though. Talk about ELEGANZA!

    This is such an essential documentary (and caused such a furor when it wasn't nominated for an Oscar) that I'm kind of surprised you hadn't heard of it before. I feel the same way you do - not totally taken with it, but I still really like it.

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    1. There was just something about that moment that felt so...reflective of the whole film, like the perfect set up for what we were about to witness.

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  5. I have heard of this film but I have never seen it. It sounds like it would be fun to watch. I went to a nightclub years ago where everyone intermingled. Some of those men were much prettier and better dressed than the women. They had class and it was fun dancing along side of them

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    1. You have such a wide range of incredible life experiences. I feel like you've either done everything or know someone who has!

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    2. That's nice:) I have done some things or experienced them and I enjoy hearing the stories my family and friends have gone through. One day i will talk about the time I was in the deadman's zone coming from Hungary into Austria after a 4 day trip. this was when the cold war was still going on and the borders were watched. I did something silly because i didn't know the language

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    3. I'm currently watching No Man's Land, so when we discuss it for our next panel, you'll have to tell us your story!

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  6. I've never heard of this doc before but your detailed description is so vivid I could almost picture this very scene!

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  7. it's a great film indeed. i saw it recently for the first time.

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    1. I'm glad that it was brought to my attention!

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  8. Good choice. It reminds be of some of the shots of Laurence Alia in 'Laurence Anyways'

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    1. Dolan has a thing for the backs of people's heads...he does that with Pilon in Mommy as well!

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