Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crazy Horse

Asked for her definition of eroticism, one of the members of the Crazy Horse’s staff offers this: “Seduction without offering yourself. Restraint.”

That’s not a bad way of describing Frederick Wiseman’s thoughtful, undogmatic approach to filmmaking, which layers on information without commentary, letting viewers draw their own conclusions. But Wiseman’s exploration of Paris’ Crazy Horse cabaret, which bills itself as the world’s classiest purveyor of nude dancing, is the opposite of a seduction.

Crazy Horse is your grandfather’s strip club, a place where Hugh Hefner would feel right at home, with its red velvet seating area and the lookalike bodies and strictly codified movements of its dancers. The performances are basically professionally staged strutting, stretching, and hip-shaking with a few classical ballet moves and circus-style acrobatics thrown in. (Philippe Decouflé, the choreographer who took over shortly before Wiseman and crew started filming, has worked with Cirque de Soleil, and it shows).

Decouflé pontificates about artistic freedom and how he’s infusing new life in the old institution, but we don’t see enough of the choreography to judge for ourselves what he’s changed or how well it works. Director/editor Wiseman and cinematographer John Davey zoom in tight on pieces of the women’s bodies as they dance, reducing them to twisting torsos or swaying butts (Crazy Horse founder Alain Bernardin’s ass fetish is one tradition Decouflé seems happy to maintain). And after a while, wiggling butts get kinda tedious, no matter how nicely rounded and lit they may be.

Wiseman’s trademark direct cinema style can get frustrating, too. Why are those women periodically cooing into a mike? Will those sounds be incorporated into dances? The dancers themselves remain ciphers, since we almost never hear them speak and we never hear what their work means to them, though we get a couple of conflicting theories about that from the men who direct them.

The absence of the dancers’ point of view and the fetishistic focus on their body may be meant as a sly comment on their objectification, but it leaves a frustrating hole at the center of the story. This time around, the fly on the wall may just be buzzing around in circles.

Written for The L Magazine

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