Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wiseman’s Crazy Horse

Renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman once again turns his lens on a dance institution, but the Crazy Horse is more about covers and drink minimums than season tickets. The inner workings of the Parisian nightclub considered home to the world’s most artistically refined nude dancing is quietly observed in Wiseman’s Crazy Horse (trailer here), now playing in New York at Film Forum.

Choreographer Philippe Decouflé has grand plans for a new revue, but management will not close down long enough for a suitable development period. This will be the central conflict of Wiseman’s time in residence at the storied cabaret. An iconic institution for over sixty years, Crazy Horse (a.k.a. Le Crazy) management claims they cater to a significant female clientele. Perhaps, but this certainly is not the Paris Opera Ballet featured in La Danse, nor the American Ballet Theater Wiseman studied in Ballet. It is light-years away from the Idaho state legislators seen in his C-SPAN-like State Legislature.

There is no getting around the eroticism of the club’s shows. However, their production values are undeniably impressive. Particularly striking are the often suggestive lighting effects that put the old disco ball to shame. Decouflé and artistic director Ali Mahdavi have crafted some very stylish numbers and the dancers are of an elite caliber. Competitively selected from open try-outs, they are certainly attractive, but they clearly have dancers’ physiques rather than, you know, strippers.’

Wiseman and his longtime cinematographer John Davey vividly capture the colors and spectacle of le Crazy’s stage-shows. There is also an unusual amount of music for a Wiseman film, recorded during the course of the dancers’ performances, which is mostly rather up-tempo and poppy. Indeed, this might be one of his most upbeat and zesty films, perhaps ever. At a brisk one hundred and thirty-four minutes, it is almost like a short subject for the filmmaker.

Crazy Horse is pretty steamy. However, considering the attention lavished on the steps, costumes, and lighting of its celebrated dancers, le Crazy’s shows would still probably be distinctive, even if they were more fully clothed. Indeed, that is the real measure of their artistic merit. Without question, Wiseman’s film will instill in audiences a healthy appreciation for the Parisian hot spot. Recommended for mature adults, Crazy Horse screens at Film Forum through Tuesday, February 7th.