Paris is Burning (Documentary) by Jennie Livingston (Director)

On December 31, 2018 Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 80s. Pose.

DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012

Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting University project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee – or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.

As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand there’s the pageantry and over the top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of 80’s mainstream society. A celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live people who want to be who they are. They want love and happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she’s always wanted. People who love and accept her. People who see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she’d never have was heart stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.

As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad. The nurturing “families” and the danger of daily survival. I searched wikipedia for many of the key players in the film after finishing and many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.

Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.

Buy Paris is Burning on Amazon U.S. Amazon U.K. Amazon CA

American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013

American Horror Story: Murder House

Halloween 2018 may be over but if you’re looking to binge a great show this weekend, check out my upcoming series of reviews of American Horror Story Seasons 1-7.

Aired: October 5 – December 21, 2011

On the precipice of divorce, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivian (Connie Britton) relocate from Boston to a renovated mansion in Los Angeles with their daughter Violet (Tassia Farmiga) in order to start again. Little do they know that the great price that they got on the mansion is due to its dark history of violence. Will they become eternal tenants of be the rare people to leave the house alive?

 

 

I was very late to catch the American Horror Story train. Always a Ryan Murphy fan, Feud was a work of genius, horror simply isn’t a genre that I would regularly choose to watch. One night the 16-year-old and I were talking about what to watch and we landed on American Horror Story Murder House. Let’s be clear, while I know my daughter is old enough to watch shows like American Horror Story Murder House, it was a little uncomfortable at times to be watching it with her. Some of the themes are quite adult but the story is engaging and the acting is spectacular.

Ben and Vivian go to California looking for a new start after Ben cheats with one of his students and Vivian suffers a miscarriage. Ben opens his psychiatry practice from the spectacularly beautiful wood paneled library (the real house used in the show was built in 1908 and is 10,000+ square feet. For more information, click here ). He takes as a patient Tate (Evan Peters), a troubled teen who forges a bond with Violet that doesn’t especially thrill Ben. Complicating matters are the sometimes young and sometimes old maid, Moira (Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge), a somewhat overbearing neighbor played by Jessica Lange and her mischievous daughter who slips into the house at will scaring its occupants played by Jamie Brewer. As time unfolds the former occupants reveal themselves to the new owners and their motivations are very rarely innocent.

While hesitant to start this series, I have to say American Horror Story Murder House is wonderful. The stories are the former occupants are deep, complex and fully realized. Lily Rabe plays the wife of the first owner of the house. She suffered a great loss and the actress plays both her grieving an manipulative sides to perfection. Zachary Quinto gives another standout performance as a former owner trapped eternally in a relationship with someone with whom he’d rather not spend eternity. Jessica Lange perhaps, not surprisingly, gives the best performance as a woman who has a deep connection with the house and is torn in a love/hate relationship with her life and desperate need to stay nearby. She won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in the role of Constance Langdon. Truly, at many points the show is a work of art.

One of the constant characters is the man in the rubber suit. The art department deserves a lot of credit for the way he sometimes floats through the scene. There are a few really unforeseen twists that just thrilled this viewer and while not all character stories were as interesting as the others as everything came together it was clear the story was just astoundingly well done. At first I did find the show a little scary but as episodes progressed, just simply could not stop watching.

If you’re looking for a good ghost story this post-Halloween weekend, binge the 12 episodes in this season and remember, Season 8 all comes back to that gorgeous house.

American Horror Story Murder House is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Tassia Farmiga, Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Dennis O’Hare, (and others)
Length 12 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release September 25, 2012