Saturday, Sep 26, 2020
 
search SGN
SERVING SEATTLE AND THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST FOR 42 YEARS!

click to visit advertiser's website


Javascript DHTML Drop Down Menu Powered by dhtml-menu-builder.com

Last Weeks Edition
   
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




 

 
 

 

 

[Valid RSS]

click to go to advertisers website
to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 41
Upstairs Inferno documents 1973 arson in New Orleans
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
  next story
Upstairs Inferno documents 1973 arson in New Orleans

by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

UPSTAIRS INFERNO
October 17


The historical documentary, Upstairs Inferno - playing October 17 at noon at the AMC Pacific Place (600 Pine St.) as part of the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival - chronicles the 1973 fire (determined to be arson) at the Up Stairs Lounge, a New Orleans Gay bar, that killed 32 people. Filmmaker Robert L. Camina (who will attend the screening with producer Shep Sheppard and interviewee Johnny Townsend) uses talking heads, photographs, and archival footage to recount this horrific crime, dubbed "The deadliest arson attack in New Orleans' history.'

The film, narrated (albeit a bit stiffly) by Gay writer Christopher Rice, opens by establishing the patrons' happier memories of the bar, a safe space with a homey feel. The bar had decorations in the stairwell and beefcake shots on the walls. The 3-story building on the edge of the French Quarter was home to not just a bar, but also a dance floor and a theatre, where patrons would put on "Nellydramas' - drag melodramas with a queer twist. There was a camaraderie at evening sing-a-longs and eventually the bar became the home to the Metropolitan Community Church, who used the theatre as a meeting space for their queer congregation.

Upstairs Inferno provides a solid, nostalgic picture of what LGBT life was like back in the 1970s as patrons explained that they could not be out at work, and many had been estranged from their families. One interviewee, Regina, speaks with palpable loss about her lover, an African American man, and the attitudes towards interracial relationships in the South at the time.

The tragedy that befell the bar patrons is also poignantly portrayed. The descriptions of flames swirling in the bar, windows being blocked as people tried to escape, and lives being lost as men tried to save others, is horrifying. Camina includes vivid images of victims' burned bodies to emphasize the hopeless situation for those who perished as well as the difficulties faced by those who survived.

Yet Upstairs Inferno is concerned with more than just the horrors of the fire itself; the film documents the homophobia and bigotry that the survivors experienced after the fire. Moon Landrieu, the then Mayor of New Orleans, Governor Ed(win) Edwards, and Archbishop Hannan all failed to acknowledge the crime publically in the press. There were difficulties for Reverend Bill Richardson, who angered his vestry by allowing a memorial service at St. George's Episcopal Church. In addition, Metropolitan Community Church Reverend Bill Larson, who died in the fire, was disowned by his mother; she was so ashamed her son was Gay, and did not claim his body. Four other men who were unclaimed or unidentified were buried in paupers' graves by the city.

The poor treatment of the Gay community is presented with a certain bias by the film, but the point of Upstairs Inferno is not to give voice to a little-known episode in Gay history, but to emphasize that what happened in New Orleans could have happened anywhere in the United States during that time - and in many areas, such disrespect probably did in some regard.

Camina's film, a micro-history, however, benefits most from the individual accounts. There are many sad stories of survivor's guilt and despair, as well as feelings of emptiness and helplessness. Duane Mitchell, Jr., a young boy who was at the movies with his brother while his father died at the bar, was not told that his father had passed away for a week.

What is inspiring about the aftermath of the tragedy is the way that it brought the LGBT community in New Orleans together. A memorial fund was established, and several members of the community became visible, as when they left a memorial service unconcerned about the television cameras outside that might reveal their identities to their friends, families, colleagues and neighbors. There is even a suggestion in the film that the tragedy launched the Gay rights movement in New Orleans.

Upstairs Inferno becomes especially interesting in its third act when Roger Dale Nunez is identified as the suspected arsonist. Clayton Delery-Edwards, author of the Up Stairs Lounge Arson, elegantly discusses the socio-cultural factors that may have lead Up Stairs Lounge patron Nunez to have committed the crime.

That the survivors can talk about forgiveness is just one aspect to the resiliency of the men and women presented in the film. That they are still emotional about what happened four decades ago shows how vivid this experience was for those who were there.

While some viewers unfamiliar with the events of the Up Stairs Lounge fire may find the history to be slight, and the points some of the interviewees make to be over-emphasized, or underdeveloped (e.g., the Gay rights movement), there is still a humanity on display in Camina's film that is affecting.

© 2015 Gary M. Kramer

Tell a friend:

Share on Facebook  Share on Facebook

Post to MySpace!Share on MySpace!

    Share on Delicious

Share on StumbleUpon!

SEATTLE LESBIAN & GAY FILM FESTIVAL

An interview with SLGFF Festival Director Kathleen Mullen

------------------------------
How the AIDS epidemic changed American art
------------------------------
Seattle musician Kris Orlowski gets nostalgic on Gershwin-inspired EP
------------------------------
OUTBOUND: Bite of the San Juan Islands, Friday Harbor Film Festival are two reasons for a NW island escape
------------------------------
Strong cast brings A View From the Bridge to powerful life
------------------------------
Laugh with or at Bad Jews... It can take it!
------------------------------
Sankai Juku performs Umusuna: Memories Before History
------------------------------
An interview with Winning Dad director Arthur Allen
------------------------------
Horror Fest 2015 showcases radio thrillers
Puget Sound FM celebrates Halloween with a free collection and a month of programming specials.

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------
Reflections on the county clerk in Kentucky
------------------------------
Selena Gomez books May 13 concert date in Seattle
------------------------------
Upstairs Inferno documents 1973 arson in New Orleans
------------------------------
20TH ANNUAL SLGFF: Week One capsule reviews
------------------------------
Damon out of this world as Scott's heroic Martian
------------------------------
Imaginative, eye-popping Pan a fascinating misfire
------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

------------------------------

click to visit advertiser's website

click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
click to visit advertiser's website
Seattle Gay Blog post your own information on
the Seattle Gay Blog
 
 

gay news feeds gay news readers gay rss gay
http://sgn.org/rss.xml | what is RSS? | Add to Google use Google to set up your RSS feed
SGN Calendar For Mobile Phones http://sgn.org/rssCalendarMobile.xml
SGN Calendar http://sgn.org/rssCalendar.xml

Seattle Gay News - SGN
1707 23rd Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

Phone 206-324-4297
Fax 206-322-7188

email: sgn2@sgn.org
website suggestions: web@sgn.org

copyright Seattle Gay News 2015 - DigitalTeamWorks 2015

USA Gay News American News American Gay News USA American Gay News United States American Lesbian News USA American Lesbian News United States USA News
Pacific Northwest News in Seattle News in Washington State News