I caught Robert L. Camina's thorough, compassionate Upstairs Inferno this past week, as gut-wrenching a film as you'd ever want to see.
A documentary on the tragic fire that claimed 32 lives at the gay bar the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973, the film is a valuable record of an event many people — even LGBTQ people — have no idea ever happened.
The fire tore through the popular gay watering hole, which also served as a nexus for the gay-affirming Metropolitan Community Church, killing dozens in a matter of minutes thanks to its fire-friendly decor and barred windows. One enduring image from the blaze is a news photo of the upper part of a gay pastor's body wedged between the bars of one window, where he died desperately trying to escape.
Over 20 bodies were found stacked by the windows, while others never had a moment to budge from where they stood. Still others died in the hospital in the days following the fire.
Sadly, the fire was almost certainly caused by a gay man angry that he'd been kicked out of the establishment. Sadly and sickeningly, he was never questioned by police and not long after committed suicide, reportedly at odds with being gay — and no doubt wracked with guilt over doing something he couldn't have imagined would end so horrifically.