CRAZY HORSE B
USA France (134 mi) 2011 d: Frederick Wiseman
Wiseman seems to have altered his documentary style somewhat, discarding the long, overall view for something smaller and relatively compact, dispensing with the long takes, offering several quick cuts even within 10 seconds, which is something we would never have seen earlier in his career. After all the dreary and social unpleasantness Wiseman and his camera crew have unearthed for decades, revealing social realism through unedited cinema, perhaps now in his early 80’s, having allegedly shot more than 7 million feet of film in his career, it’s about time he retreats into the claustrophobic confines of the fairer sex. One could think of worse projects than being stuck for perhaps months at a time behind the scenes of the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, known for offering the most sophisticated female nude review anywhere in the world. Anyone who’s sat through BALLET (1995) or LA DANSE-LE BALLET DE L’OPERA DE PARIS (2009), using a style that shuns narration, emphasizing subject over individuality, knows Wiseman creates a rather hypnotic approach at studying the endless rehearsals and constant behind-the scenes-persuasion to present the cultural refinement and artistic beauty of ballet onstage, where his patience pays off in the end, as one can only marvel at the finished product, where dance sequences (including rehearsals) will be shown in their entirety, often ravishingly beautiful. This is much different, chopped up into pieces like more mainstream documentaries, lacking much of the personal intimacy of his best work. Nonetheless, even without his signature shot, as not one dance number is seen from start to finish, Wiseman does capture the flavor of the nightclub, founded in 1951 by Alain Bernardin, a sort of French Hugh Hefner of the erotic fantasy review business, as he originated the stylish, high art presentation, but committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 78, using a shotgun in his backstage office (not revealed in the film, as it’s something they apparently don’t like to talk about). In this business, one doesn’t grow old gracefully.
It’s fair to say that this erotic review features first and foremost the woman’s derrière, fixating on it as if the many forms it takes is the most resplendent example of the feminine form, the most visually enticing and sexually alluring, where the pronounced curve is nothing less than an art form and God’s gift to mankind. No busty women here, as this is nothing like a stripper joint, instead each woman is carefully chosen for her athletic ability to move gracefully onstage and for having what one calls the money shot, the perfect posterior. While the women are occasionally completely naked onstage, more often they wear G-strings or scant costumes where the tits and ass remain fully exposed, where one carefully choreographed dance called “Teasing” is completely dedicated to the wonders of the bare derrière. But Wiseman’s discreet edits never allow it to become too sexy, as it would most likely be if seen in the club itself, where every table is seen with a champagne bottle placed in a bucket of ice along with two glasses. While the glitz and glamor of the kaleidoscopic live acts are a colorful onstage spectacle, where we’re able to see short sequences, the more intriguing shots are the girls in rehearsal, still barely clothed, but without any costumes, wigs, and makeup, where they’re more relaxed and each girl has an identifiable charm and personality. Without any narration, we never learn the identities of any of the dancers, as none are interviewed, and all perform several ensemble pieces where there’s uniformity in costume, where no individual star gets their name up on the marquee. Even backstage where women are seen doing last minute costume or make up changes, few individuals stand out, so the way it's presented, it's all about product. Wiseman adds just a touch of Paris, adding a few scenic outdoor shots of boats motoring down the Seine River or a few outdoor street café’s.
Behind the scenes at management meetings, however, it’s a continual jostling match, where despite the obvious talent of all involved, it’s a dysfunctional family relationship, where it’s a wonder anything ever makes it successfully to the stage. The artistic director Philippe Decouffé, who choreographed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, seen as a Bob Fosse style relentless perfectionist and workaholic, pleads at length for time to break in and prepare new material, but the club operations manager, Andrée Deissenberg, insists there is no other option as the shareholders refuse to allow any break in the current onstage productions. This forces Decouffé and the dancers to invent, rehearse, and stage all new material during existing working hours, as the show must go on. The sad truth is management simply doesn’t care, where “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is their working business model. So long as there are beautiful girls dancing naked onstage, they’re giving the public what they want. What do they care if the costumes are worn, if a dancer misses a step, or if the lights are off cue? Ironically, Decouffé and Deissenberg have a history, as both worked together at the Cirque du Soleil before coming to the Crazy Horse. It’s a battle of egos, as the costume designer can’t keep up with the new numbers, as Decouffé’s imagination simply runs away with him, where he’s continually adding new elements into existing works to keep the show fresh and alive. The club does give Decouffé something of an alter ego in the form of Ali Mahdavi, a man he obviously loathes, an artistic consultant brought in to modernize the look of the routines, a guy who hogs the spotlight in front of Decouffé and the cameras every chance he gets, namedropping Fellini and Fassbinder to the international press as he exaggeratingly explains that working for the Crazy Horse is the highest pinnacle in art. There is no mention of the shelf life in the career of a nude dancer, as none appear to be out of their 20’s, and at the tryouts, where interestingly a male transsexual auditions, plenty of even younger girls fit the bill looking to showcase their physiques for the future.