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UCL Mellon Programme: Interdisciplinary Seminar 2008-2009

Seminar: 5 December 2008 (Chair: Dr Cüneyt Çakirlar, more ... )

A screening and discussion of Paris Is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990), 71 mins

Abstract

Livingstone’s Paris Is Burning will be our last film, and the third case-study (after Baur’s Venus BoyZ and Ataman’s video Never My Soul!) to understand the political economy of filming/documenting the phenomenon of drag. Phelan states:

‘Jennie Livingstone’s controversial film Paris Is Burning (1991) documents one of the most difficult and complex texts I’ve seen. The film chronicles the competitive drag balls staged in Harlem clubs (most of the film was shot at the Imperial Elks Lodge) between 1987 and 1989. The models, who walk and compete for huge trophies during the ball, are Latino and African-American gay men, transvestites, and transsexuals, most of whom are poor. Counter-intuitively, the balls reveal the performers’ longing to be made unremarkable – to pass as “normative” (and thus be unnoticed) rather than to be seen as “other” (and constantly surveyed by the upholders of the normative). Excessively marked as “other” outside the arena of the balls, the walkers employ the hypervisibility of the runway to secure the power and freedom of invisibility outside the hall’ (Phelan 1993: 93).

Readings :

Butler, Judith. ‘Gender Is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion’ in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 121-40.

Phelan, Peggy. ‘The Golden Apple: Jennie Livingstone’s Paris Is Burning’ in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 93-111.

This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by UCL Mellon Admin

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