Crazy Horse, the new documentary from director Frederick Wiseman, is an insider’s look at the famed Paris cabaret and how French choreographer Philippe Decouflé revamped the nude show a couple years ago. Wiseman and his cinematographer John Davey are seemingly able to capture every move, every backstage argument, every frustration over the creative process. The access is undeniably freeing, and this makes for an intimate portraiture of a very intimate performance piece.
Wiseman smartly throws his camera within the hurricane that is Crazy Horse. He shows us finished dance numbers, works in progress and production meetings where Decouflé and company struggle with finances, time constraints and creative differences.
What may at first be disregarded as a simple skin show is elevated (somewhat) by the obvious dedication and passion of the creative team and performers. They wholeheartedly embrace the artistry behind the performance, believing the show, which features many a topless lady, to be a wonderful example of female independence and beauty. It’s hard to match their enthusiasm, but one gains a newfound respect for the Crazy Horse after watching Wiseman’s film.
Perhaps one pivotal aspect that’s missing from the 134-minute feature is any in-depth look at the dancers themselves. We come to know the director, costume designer and managers, but the women of the Crazy Horse remain a mystery. They enjoy the company of their fellow performers when sitting backstage, waiting for the lights to dim and the music to pulsate. They shimmy and shake their way into various costumes, only to disrobe completely while on stage. But other than these glances, the dancers are hidden, remaining nameless and unexplored.
Perhaps this was a conscious decision because Decouflé is so fascinating to watch, and investigating too many characters would have felt unfocused.
At times, Decouflé plays the part of a celebrated choreographer, taking the stage himself to dance a slinky striptease number. Other times he feels like an airport controller, moving nude women this way and that way. Still, other times, he is the voice of everyone involved when he butts heads with the owners. Decouflé believed the only proper way to relaunch the Crazy Horse was to shut down the show, let the rehearsal process take its course and then reopen with a glitzy premiere. The move to cancel performances was seen as too risky, so the director needed to shepherd the dancers through nighttime performances in front of a paying crowd and change the choreography during the day.
Wiseman’s film is at its best when he lets the camera dreamily rest, letting us view the finished products. Many of the sequences in Crazy Horse’s new show, entitled Désir, are precise, passionate and palpable — not to mention sexy and seductive. Wiseman is smart to let these numbers shine without too many interruptions.
The filmmaker also never passes judgment, even when the creative process grows a little uninspired. There’s one scene when the performers are recording a new song for the show, and the lyrics are so atrociously childish that it’s a wonder no one stepped in and cried foul.
Crazy Horse is a quality film about a show that may, in fact, have some quality. Wiseman makes a good case that there’s something behind all the flesh.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com