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By Gregg Shapiro
Narrated by gay writer (and occasional New Orleans resident) Christopher Rice, and directed by Robert L. Camina, Upstairs Inferno is a powerful (and sometimes difficult-to-watch) documentary about the tragic and devastating 1973 fire in the UpStairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar. With antigay hate crimes and other such activities on the rise in today’s toxic political climate (particularly with Donald Trump as POTUS and the even-more-dangerous and homophobic Mike Pence installed as vice president), this DVD/Blu-ray release of Upstairs Inferno couldn’t possibly be any timelier.
Featuring extensive interviews with survivors, historians, reporters, patrons, and an extremely emotional Rev. Troy Perry, Upstairs Inferno provides a detailed history, including descriptions of the décor of the “off the beaten path” bar that first opened on Halloween in 1970. Located at the edge of the French Quarter, the Up Stairs Lounge was one of the city’s few racially integrated bars. Known as a “gathering place of friends,” the bar was also renowned for its shows—“Nellydramas”—as well as being an early home for Rev. Perry’s Metropolitan Community Church.
The June 1973 fire, which was said to have been set by disgruntled patron Roger Dale Nunez, tore through the second-floor space and resulted in 32 deaths and numerous injuries. The film includes graphic images from the disaster. The losses and the lack of any sort of compassionate response from politicians and law enforcement, as well as some members of the clergy, served to strengthen New Orleans’ now-visible LGBTQ community and prepare them for the unseen fights that lay ahead.
More than 40 years later, memories of the tragedy continue to cause irreversible trauma for the survivors.
Blu-ray and DVD bonus material includes the behind-the-scenes featurette “The Making of Upstairs Inferno,” as well as a “Present-Day Tour of the Up Stairs Lounge” and more.
From Camina Entertainment (caminaentertainment.com).