On Thursday, May 30th, the Outflix Summer Film Series kicks off with a screening of Paris Is Burning. The series, with screenings every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Studio on the Square through June 27th, serves as a fund-raiser for the annual Outflix Film Festival, dedicated to LGBT films. This year's festival is set for September 6th-12th.
Paris Is Burning is the critically acclaimed 1990 documentary following the ball culture among gay African-American and Hispanic men in New York City. Participants belonged to "houses" — described in the film as "gay street gangs" — and competed at the balls in categories that ranged from "Executive Realness" to "Butch Queen." The film introduced much of the world to voguing (a flinging of insults via dance), which was further popularized by Malcolm McLaren and later (and more famously) by Madonna.
While there's no direct connection to Memphis in the film, Paris Is Burning will always be linked to the city for me. Seeing the film at the old Fare Four was one of the very first things I did when I moved to Memphis. I have distinct memories of that evening at the Fare Four, the only venue at the time showing art films. A good section of the seating was covered in plastic because the roof had leaked, and that made it all the more perfect. There, up on the screen, a diminutive subject with the not-so-diminutive name of Venus Xtravaganza, talked of her white-picket-fence hopes. Xtravaganza comes to a tragic end, but the message I got from her and the film shown in that damp theater in my new hometown was one of promise.
Other films in the series are: You Are Not Alone (June 6th); Madonna: Truth or Dare (June 13th); Thelma & Louise (June 20th); and Milk (June 27th). You Are Not Alone, a documentary about depression in gay black men, is being held in conjunction with the Saving Ourselves Symposium, hosted by the Red Door Foundation, the AIDS/HIV advocacy group. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the film's producer Antoine B. Craigwell.
Paris Is Burning, Thursday, May 30th, 7 p.m., at Studio on the Square, $10. outflixfestival.org