Directed by Frederick Wiseman
At the Charles Theatre April 7, 9, and 12 as part of the Charles Revival Series
Crazy Horse is no different, at root, than the many previous plain-spoken documentaries by venerable filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. As he did in films such as Boxing Gym and Public Housing, he selects an institution and dedicates himself to an extended period of filming, as unobtrusively as possible, what goes on there, then edits his footage into a straightforward onscreen portrait. For his most recent film, however, the institution on which he chose to focus is Le Crazy Horse de Paris, the French cabaret famed for its extravagant nude review. The result is a film that brings to mind, in the best possible way, the old joke about reading Playboy for the articles.
The 61-year-old Crazy Horse is no mere strip club set up to bilk louche types out of their franc notes. The dancers are naked, or mostly so, but they are dancers, cast for their exquisite terpsichorean skills as much as their leggy builds and perfect skin, and the show itself is a series of big musical production numbers with lavish (if minute) costumes and gaudy sets. Wiseman’s cameras not only capture various performances from the show intact, they also zero in on the show’s director, Philippe Decouflé, as he works on getting together a new season’s show, casting new dancers, and discussing/squabbling with management and his fellow creative staffers over how the show should work and, here and there, what it means. Like Wiseman, the folks at the Crazy take their work very seriously.
Wiseman’s dedicatedly passive style of finding drama in his material means that scant narrative momentum emerges here, though the random backstage bits offer fleeting fly-on-the-wall fascination—from glimpses of Decouflé and company’s perfectionism to a handful of dancers cackling over a video of ballet bloopers. Fortunately, he can always cut to yet another Crazy Horse set piece, mini-suites of cheesy song, vibrant color, kitschy art direction, and toned flesh that come close to turning Vegas-style titillation into art.