Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here

Institute History

  • 2003 June Screenwriters Lab


Having a Ball uses the fascinating material culture of New Orleans as the historical back drop in exploring the traditions and the implications of 19th and 20th century social balls, the parades that lead up to them, and the secret societies that make them come alive.

Situated in the 19th century, the video opens with one of the famed Quadroon Balls, a gathering place for the illicit interplay of the forbidden, and it is here that the viewer is allowed to enter the sensual world of the unspeakable, where spectacle, power and money, lust and desire, class, and race all co-mingle, resulting in a deadly mix. Leading the way is Madame "Q"—an aging Foxy Brown, living on the edge of the French Quarter with another kind of storyville story to tell.

The film is neither a documentary nor a traditional narrative; rather, it is a series of interlocking vignettes and tableaux—some based on historical paintings along with other documents and illustrations—that are made using sequences composed with photographs, moving footage, live action, rear-view projection, shadow play, and cabaret.

Each vignette is entered through the memory of Madame "Q", the demure guiding interlocutor who leads the audience through the cultural maze by introducing the time and the place, the situations and the characters, the debuting debutantes of dubious origins, the costumes and the balls, the Mystic Knights of Comus, Rex and his Queen, Zulu and her King, and much, much more as we drift slowly down the course of the Mississippi and into the very heart of America.


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