Filmmakers Susan Todd and Andrew Young take a fresh and insightful look at a seemingly over-familiar subject — Mardi Gras in New Orleans — in “Cutting Loose,” an ambitious and entertaining documentary that should generate appreciative interest on the global fest circuit and in limited theatrical release. Pic is a natural for TV, and may eventually prove popular as a video memento for New Orleans tourists.
The beauty of “Cutting Loose” is that Todd and Young have grasped the diversity of racial, cultural and socioeconomic groups that take part in the annual Crescent City celebration. Unlike other docs that have concentrated almost exclusively on Fat Tuesday revelry in the crowded streets, this pic covers everything from the private balls of upper-class “krewes” (social organizations) to the strutting parades by flamboyantly costumed African-Americans who comport themselves as “Indians.”
Pic also gives substantial coverage to the gay-themed krewes, with particular emphasis on a store owner who meticulously designs a dazzling angel outfit complete with thousands of blinking electric bulbs. But for sheer earthy exuberance, no one can surpass Gio, a vivaciously bawdy stripper who reveals her talents while reigning as queen of the Krewe du Vieux parade.
Gio provides the pic’s biggest laughs as she rhapsodizes about her important role in the New Orleans economy. The city, she explains, has a striptease tradition to uphold.
Todd and Young strive a bit too heavily for poignancy by using a loquacious homeless woman as a kind of melancholy Greek chorus.
Much more effective, and affecting, is a segment depicting preparations by the friends of a man who died of AIDS. Wanting to give their late comrade one last chance to take part in Mardi Gras, they mix his cremated ashes with glitter and sequins, sew the mixture in several tiny bags, then ceremonially toss the bags into the Mississippi River. Only in New Orleans.
Pic is impressive on a technical level, and engrossing as an anthropological study. Filmmakers followed their subjects during several weeks of preparations, and whittled down their footage to a 90-minute running time that feels just right.