An hour of unseen Paris Is Burning footage is coming next year

Jennie Livingston’s queer classic is getting the deluxe treatment, with Criterion edition release slated for 2020

by Douglas Greenwood
19 November 2019, 3:39pm

When it first debuted at the Toronto Film Festival almost three decades ago, nobody could have predicted just how influential Paris Is Burning would be. Back in 1990, the film -- which had taken seven arduous years to complete -- bowed to an audience of critics and queer people who appreciated its excellence, but wider audiences failed to catch on. Now, in a time when RuPaul’s Drag Race and queer lingo have permeated the mainstream, the film’s stars are the archetypes of drag and ball culture for the masses. So it’s about time Paris Is Burning was given the formal respect it deserves.

In 2020, that long overdue acknowledgement will finally arrive. This summer, the film was given a digital 2K restoration to clean up its scuzzy 16mm look, and is currently screening in cinemas around the world ahead of its 30th anniversary. On top of that, the kings of arthouse cinema Criterion -- who’ve created beautiful, bonus footage-packed releases of films like Grey Gardens and The Royal Tenenbaums in the past -- will be releasing their version of Paris is Burning too. It’s the most thorough look into the film’s creation since it was first released.

On top of the restored version being released on Blu-ray, the disc will also include an audio commentary, a newly recorded conversation between Jennie, ballroom members Sol Pendavis and Freddie Pendavis (who starred in the original film) and filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, an excerpt from the cast’s appearance on the Joan Rivers show and -- most excitingly -- over an hour of unreleased footage.

The original documentary runs a few minutes shy of an hour and 15 minutes, so the added bonus of an extra hour on top of that is sheer queer ecstasy to anyone who’s repeat-watched the film more times than they can count. We can expect to see more in-depth conversations from the queens, late nights at Christopher St Pier and some more savage critiques at the Harlem balls.

That sounds like a treat in itself, but Jennie recorded over 75 hours of footage throughout the film’s production. Might there be even more to come?

Paris Is Burning
Ball Culture
RuPauls' Drag Race