Just another day in the buff
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012
A peek at the professional lives of those at the center of the film "Crazy Horse" might give viewers pause before ever again using the phrase "the daily grind." Documentarian Frederick Wiseman chronicles what happens behind the curtain, as well as onstage, at the Parisian landmark that declares itself the world's most chic nude dancing club.
From an American perspective, it's hard to read that description as anything but a euphemism for strip joint. But the people involved in this 60-year-old endeavor take their work seriously. Production director Philippe Decoufle, for example, is the man behind the choreography for such high-profile gigs as the opening ceremony of the Albertville Olympics in 1992. He and his cohorts take a high-minded approach to this form of entertainment, using it as a means to discuss the nature of beauty, the finer points of sensuality and why the French government should make a show at Crazy Horse required viewing for all citizens. Never mind that one costume consists of little more than epaulettes, boots and the tall, furry hats so popular with the guards outside Buckingham Palace.
The less sexy details of running such a club - the boardroom discussions, debates over lighting, a delivery man dropping off a plastic bag-covered takeout dinner in the dressing room - are punctuated by performances. Routines range from the frivolously exhibitionist "Baby Buns," featuring dancers in leotards with appropriately placed circular cut-outs, to the clever and comparatively modest voyeurism of female shadows doing a wardrobe change behind colorful curtains. One entrancing number involves an elevated mirrored stage, which allows upwardly stretched hands and legs, not to mention other body parts, to appear as if they are ascending out of water, multiplying in the reflected surface.
While some of the dances are more striking than others, all the performers make for impressive (and seemingly implant-free) examples of the female form. For his part, Wiseman takes a lovingly unwavering gaze on the well-rounded assets of his subjects.
The behind-the-scenes portions of the film are less carefully examined. The personalities don't come into clear focus, with the exception of Decoufle, the loquacious choreographer with a real artist's temperament, and artistic director Ali Mahdavi, who all but swoons when discussing the important work of the Crazy Horse. While certain dominant tensions begin to emerge, they all ultimately recede behind the artifice of fake eyelashes and cherry-red wigs. A costume designer's tantrum about schedule changes proves much less memorable than her discussion of why certain material makes derrieres appear bony, while other fabric creates "nice, round buttocks."
While this seems amusing in retrospect, the effect is remarkably workaday in the world of the film. A certain sedateness pervades backstage scenes, even when Decoufle recounts how the performers have been fleeing rehearsals of a new piece in tears because the choreography dictates that the dancers get a little too close for their comfort. "They're modest," the choreographer explains.
The documentary doesn't provide much in the way of history, nor does it offer any outside perspectives. In fact, the scenes Wiseman has compiled seem less like painstakingly curated moments as much as a random assortment of the characters' everyday lives. But when it comes to being a fly on the office wall, the interior of Crazy Horse is undoubtedly more entertaining than most boardrooms.
Contains nudity and language. In French with English subtitles.