Directed and written by Frederick Wiseman
Running time: 128 minutes
MPAA rating: unrated
Frederick Wiseman, now in his 80s, is one of the most esteemed of documentarians. His technique, focused on subjects as diverse as high schools, public housing, and boxing gyms, is always the same: a fly on the wall, his camera observes without comment. There’s no back story, no psychological examination, no judgment.
His latest film, “Crazy Horse,” doesn’t break the pattern. Its subject is the sixty-one-year-old Paris nightclub, which features “the best nude dancing show in the world.” There are, of course, the dances—many to old-time blues and pop songs—imaginatively choreographed and lighted, performed by young women of great skill and energy. And, aside from the tiniest of g-strings, those young women are really nude. In addition to the rehearsals and performances, John Davey’s camera also looks in on costume fittings, lighting discussions, and arguments about the club’s business. The director/choreographer, Philippe Decouflé, insists that the club should be closed for a while in order for a new show, “Désirs,” to be developed; the shareholders, however, won’t allow it. It’s an old story: art vs. business.
But mostly, “Crazy Horse” is all about the “girls.” An international bunch, they are without exception Caucasian, slim, small-breasted, and big-buttocked. No boob jobs are in sight. The buns are the focus, as one number, the creepy, pedophilic “Baby Buns,” isn’t the only one to make clear.
The dancers, performing two shows a night and three on Saturdays, seven days a week, are not only gorgeous; they’re really talented. Their moves combine the salaciousness of a pole dancer with the contortions of a Cirque du Soleil performer. And they manage to keep a straight face when the announcer proclaims their act is “the paroxysm of eroticism.” Though they hate touching each other, as Decouflé points out, they nonetheless engage in more-than-suggestive homoerotic routines.
In contrast, the customers, sitting at tables with ice buckets each containing a bottle of Champagne, are an ordinary-looking lot–tourists probably, many couples, some groups of all men or all women. They all get photographed, their portraits available for purchase as they leave, like cruise passengers.
In one scene, choreographer Decouflé and “artistic director” Ali Mahdavi discuss their work and what they see as the mission of the shows: beauty, elegance, the glamorization of women. In the film’s publicity, the phrase “dedicated to women” appears. Terms like “chic” and “elegance” are tossed about.
The Germans have a better name for what we really see: Edel-Kitsch. The term, literally “noble kitsch,” conveys pretentiousness and affectation slicked over the sleazy and meretricious. Wiseman, of course, takes no stand. But what I see is the exploitation of the young women, whose attributes are discussed by the managers like those of fancy pooches at the Westminster Dog Show. The prurience is dressed up in fancy feathers—or no feathers at all.