Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smoking Hot

Crazy Horse
Direction, sound & editing by Frederick Wiseman
Opens January 18, 2012 at Film Forum, New York, NY

The dancers, who are drop-dead gorgeous, have their nude bodies caressed by the camera for much of the 134-minute running time of Crazy Horse. But since this is director Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, it’s not done in a leering or misogynistic way: rather, it’s another chronicle of the inner workings of a fabled institution: this time, it just happens to be the famous Parisian dance revue that’s done brisk business for 60 years since being founded by Alain Bernardin.

Wiseman’s 2009 film, La Danse, astutely showed viewers how the Paris Ballet is run. But even though he trades high for low culture, Crazy Horse is of a piece with his other films, which display a singular rigor and discipline, whether we’re watching the boxing gyms, race tracks or high schools he’s captured on film in his 39 documentaries since 1967’s breakthrough Titicut Follies.

The star of Crazy Horse is Phillipe Decoufle, director of the cabaret’s latest revue, Desir. In addition to showing him rehearsing the dancers, he’s also shown in several meetings, where he reveals his frustration with the club’s management, which is balking at allowing him more time to perfect his new show: ideally, he’d like to shut down the house for a week to make the necessary adjustments and improvements. (This suggestion isn’t feasible for a business that needs its customers to pack the house every night.)

The artistry of the performers is superbly showcased through Decoufle’s quasi-erotic choreography and Wiseman’s fluid camerawork, which intimately captures the dancers’ aesthetic beauty. Even with its ample female nudity--the dancers’ curvy, toned figures are central to the movie, naturally--Crazy Horse is more than a mere voyeuristic look at naked women…but the raincoat crowd (if there still is such a thing in this age of internet porn) will still enjoy it immensely.

Even though the dancers are seen backstage--at one point, they have a blast watching videos of Russian ballet bloopers--it’s too bad that Wiseman doesn’t individualize any of them. A group of gorgeous, talented and hard-working women, we meet everyone but learn about no one: they are simply cogs in the giant machine that makes Crazy Horse so spectacularly successful.

That flaw aside, Wiseman shows that he’s an unimpeachable master of the offhand insight, like a seemingly uneventful shot of the cabaret’s fa├žade during the day: its small, unimposing storefront hides the eventful busyness going on inside. The director also shrewdly bookends his film with an anonymous pair of hands doing hand shadow puppets on a wall, which reiterates that the onstage entertainment at Crazy Horse is the ultimate in illusion, even as the daily drudgery that goes into its creation is anything but.

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