Directed by Frederick Wiseman. (2012, NR, 134 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 2, 2012
Compared to most of the "gentlemen's clubs" in the U.S. (not that I've been to that many, but still …), Paris' famed Crazy Horse saloon has been an ongoing erotic attraction for tourists and locals alike since 1951. The place has been a rich and endlessly creative (professionally and artistically) bastion of pure French showmanship, and harbors a deep, Parisian reverence for all things female. It is the very definition of cherchez la femme. If you're looking for women, the Crazy Horse, with its highbrow blend of exacting choreography, music, and impeccable lighting, is the venue to take in; it's like Cirque du Soleil minus the Vegas riffraff and the libido-shattering unpalatability of Showgirls.
With the film exceeding two hours, Wiseman, arguably one our greatest living documentarians, and his director of photography, John Davey, dive deep into the perfectly sculpted, infinitely chic sensuality of the place. Far from being the Parisian equivalent of the many, often raggedy North American venues that have, over the years, appropriated the erotic icon's moniker as their own, the Crazy Horse, as seen through Wiseman's lens, offers a sublime and nuanced blend of classy, old-school showmanship (à la the Folies Bergère, and strictly modern titillation. Really, it’s reminiscent of nothing so much as All That Jazz with a tastefully florid streak. There seems to be much more work and very little play going on during the Crazy Horse's off-hours; it's then that the dancers and performers are put through their rigorous paces, the whole of the inner life of the venue ticking away in splendid, clockwork precision, lubricated not by oil but by mascara and lithe young bodies of a particular type – gamine, small-breasted, and short-haired as often as not.
Wiseman's film captivates, like all backstage documentaries, with its instances of the banal ensconced amid so much fleshly and artistic perfection. At 134 minutes, Crazy Horse could have used some judicious editing, but that relatively minor quibble aside, it provides a revealing and intimate look (as if there could be any other kind) at an institution both familiar and utterly alien.