New York Times - Vincent Canby
In Vincent Canby’s review of Paris Is Burning, he begins by touching on the importance of style within the competitions, and how to them style is being able to appear “real”. He comments on how when trying to appear real, most often it’s obvious that one isn’t. Jeannie Livingston is able to study the lives of these performers with the “curiosity of a compassionate anthropologist.”
Next, Canby addresses the structure of the balls and how the competitions take place. Their are categories that range from Femme Queen Realness all the way to street punks. He moves on from the structure of the ball to the structure of ball culture overall. The presence of “houses” within the community act as teams or “gay street gangs”. But these houses are self-protective in that they give the ball participants a family to replace the real family that many of them have lost. To even further this, the heads of each house are referred to as “mothers”.
Finally, Canby reminders his readers that despite all the glitter, parts of the documentary are incredibly heartfelt. He reminds us of the moments within the documentary that leave the audience with a feeling of overall melancholy. The contestants discuss their dreams and goals, as well as reflecting on the opportunities that they’ve already passed by. Canby says, “There is a lot of common sense and natural wit behind the role-playing. Yes there is also a terrible sadness in the testimony.” With this statement he hits the nail on the head, prompting the viewers to look at the documentary is a possibly new light by bringing to light the deeper and more thought provoking moments of the film.