The Michigan Daily
Strike a pose, wear
Wednesday, September 11, 1991
control top hose, vogue
aris is Burning
dir. Jennie Livingston
by Jen Bilik
"I want to be a star. I would like
to be a spoiled rich girl," asserts
Venus Xtravaganza, a participant in
the flamboyant drag balls of
Harlem and one of the transvestites
interviewed in Paris is Burning.
Xtravaganza looks with longing at
airbrushed magazine advertisements
of glamorous, women, convinced
that her path to success can corre-
spond with the female version of
the American Dream.
Of course, she is a he, which, on
the surface, twists her and her peers'
ambitions into something pathetic.
But rather than packaging its sub-
'Oects in a fishbowl of freakdom,
Paris is Burning focuses on the cruel
standards that created the charac-
ters, standards that value beauty
over merit, Anglo over negroid fea-
tures and heterosexuality over ho-
The documentary's humor is
sometimes ironic and sometimes
outrageously enjoyable. Direc-
or/producer Jennie Livingston's
Interviews showcase the mischie-
vous zest of the players. Their
enthusiasm is all the more touching
when it is contrasted with their
poverty and outsider status.
The drag balls provide adulation,
applause and social belonging for
black gay cross-dressers such .as
Octavia Saint Laurent, creating a
respite from, their native (and cruel)
world of hustling. But the irony of
their partially-realized fantasies
glares as they attempt to adopt the
lifestyles of the white, the rich and
the beautiful - impossible realities
which are asserted in every media.
The characters constantly refer to
Dynasty and Vogue as if they were
have captured the Great White Way
of living, or looking, or dressing, or
speaking, you is a marvel."
Between the ball scenes and the
interviews, Livingston briefly turns
the camera to the upper-East Side
streets of New York or to a mass-
meeting for the Ford Modeling
Agency, and suddenly, the real town
and country-ites seem just as pa-
thetic as their imitators (if not
more so, since they're not acting).
Livingston, a white, 29-year-old
Beverly Hills High and Yale gradu-
ate, films the transvestites as they
define the modes and vocabulary
that create their inner world:
"reading" means participating in a
verbal showdown; "voguing,"
which Madonna took directly from
these balls, indicates a posing dance
style; "mopping" is stealing; and a
"house" is a voluntary family orga-
nized into honorary mother, father
and child roles, banding together to
help each other in the balls and on
Paris is Burning is a brilliant
ethnographic film. Without being
didactic, it showcases a marginal
group of people who antithesize the
mainstream. Their appropriation of
the mainstream and their interpreta-
tion of its significance shed an em-
barrassing light on their similari-
ties to the "real," showing exactly
how absurd "real" is. Like abnor-
mal psychology, Paris is Burning
studies the pathological to elucidate
the healthy. However, the vibrant
personalities turn the mirror back
to society itself, so that their obses-
sions seem like a normal by-product
of a sick standard.
PARIS IS BURNING is playing at
the Michigan Theater through
September 20, and is preceded by
the Warner Brothers cartoon,
"What's Opera, Doc?" in which
Bugs Bunny cross-dresses with se-
Northside (I-r: Cliff Ogier, Timmy Walsh, Paul Walsh and Warren Dermody) even ripped off "Louie Louie" on
their latest single, but hey, it's a catchy riff.
Pop go the rhythm chickens?
Northside masters imitation, LSD, being'dissed
Consisting of runway competi-
tions for beauty, style and convinc-
ing performance, the drag balls in-
clude categories such as Town and
Country, Back to School, Dynasty,
High Fashion Evening Wear, and
Military and Executive "Realness,"
which tests the ability of gay men
and transvestites to act straight.
These categories, as indicated by the
editorializing emcee, are spoofs
meant to mock impossible wealth
and happiness, showing that poor
black homosexuals can imitate the
"upper class" with uncanny skill;
however, they also highlight the
misbegotten dreams of people at the
furthest reaches of society.
As the emcee says, "This is white
America. And when it comes to the
minorities, especially black, we as a
people is the greatest example of
behavior modification in the history
of civilization... That is why if you
by Annette Petruso
third of five parts
"Continuing our most popular se-
ries in which we allow you, the be-
leaguered reader, to write in and
air your problems - in response to
which we simply BLAME
NOR THSIDE! That's right! If it's
anyone's fault, you can bet your
boots it's those roomy-topped Manc
lads called Dermo and Walsho and
Manco and Bloggso."
- New Musical Express,
May 18, 1991
"I think it's just poking fun at
us," says Tim Walsh, guitarist of
the Manchester-based band North-
side, on the telephone from that fair
city. "I don't like it... I think
they're making fun of us... It's just
a band to take the mickey out of for
this week or this month. It's just
Clever is a word most people
would not use in conjunction with
Northside. It would be easy to pi-
geonhole them as an unoriginal
power pop band flying on the coat-
tails of the Happy Mondays, play-
ing clich6d riff rock and singing
about drug use and other mindless,
soul-less subjects. But Northside's
American debut, Chicken Rhythm,
isn't that bad. Like EMF's
"Unbelievable," the first song on
the album, "Take 5," has a catchy
guitar part and a short chorus that
you'll find yourself constantly re-
peating after you hear the song.
The rest of the album also con-
tains tunes that could be compared
to some other band. (At least, it's
not the same band for each song.)
But I like Chicken Rhythm, despite
the embarrassment I'm told by the
rest of bands in this series that I
should feel. It's common, familiar,
cheesy and amusing - pop that
doesn't particularly make you think.
Put the CD on and it's a smooth, in-
offensive sound that makes you
See NORTHSIDE, Page 8
Are you tired of the humdrum routine of classes?
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Write about MUSIC, BOOKS, FINE ARTS, FILM and/or
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and an air-conditioned office.
Come to the MASS MEETING tomorrow
in the Student Publications Building, 420
at 7:30 p.m.
er your college ring NOW
More and more PhDs across the coun-
try are recommending Hewlett-Packard
financial and scientific calculators
to their students. And for some very
"The HP 48SX Scientific Expandable
has powerful graphics tools that are
remarkably helpful to students learn-
ing mathematical concepts. And with
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functions. These free the students from
computational tedium so they can
think and interact on a higher level;'
says Dr. Lee V. Stiff, a professor of math
education at North Carolina State
So go check out the HP calculator line
at your college bookstore or HP retailer.
You'll agree, there's no faster relief from
Stop by and see a Jostens representative,
11 a.m. to 4 D.m.