You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Crazy Horse

Paris' famed upscale nudie revue joins the Comedie Francaise and the Paris Opera Ballet to complete Frederick Wiseman's triumvirate of Parisian entertainment institutions in "Crazy Horse."

With: Philippe Decoufle, Ali Mahdavi, Fifi Chachnil. (French, English, Russian dialogue)

Paris’ famed upscale nudie revue joins the Comedie Francaise and the Paris Opera Ballet to complete Frederick Wiseman’s triumvirate of Parisian entertainment institutions in “Crazy Horse.” Since 1951, the cabaret has prided itself on staging “the best chic nude show in the world,” so the combination of dance and the body — two of Wiseman’s chief fascinations — was irresistible to the helmer. Oddly, however, the creative act takes a backseat to the performance, and the pileup of numbers feels repetitive. Fests and theatrical distribs are lining up, but won’t match the arthouse bookings of “La Danse.”

The docu’s catalyst is the Crazy Horse’s new show, directed and choreographed by Philippe Decoufle. Wiseman shows old numbers alongside the new, and the difference is striking: An old-fashioned staging like “Baby Buns,” where pink polka-dots are projected onto the dancers’ naked flesh, has a silly de-eroticized quality that Decoufle is obviously keen on replacing. His style is more modern and arguably more sensual, though he, too, turns the female body into an abstraction whose power to titillate will very much depend on individual viewers’ tastes.

In many cases, numbers are shown with the dancers’ heads cut out of the frame, the focus firmly on torsos and buttocks. Feminists will be outraged by this piecemeal treatment, and at times it’s difficult to tell how much is the actual staging and how much is Wiseman’s viewpoint. An especially hilarious number — equal parts disturbing and funny — has the women dressed in bearskin hats, harnesses and tails attached front and rear, turning them into horse guards and horses all at once.

The helmer’s interest unsurprisingly includes the usual backstage pow-wows, where issues of money, time, costume fittings and the like inform many of the most interesting scenes. Unsurprisingly, they’re also the most human. What’s generally missing here though is a sense of the creative process; rather than sweat-and-tears rehearsals breaking the dances into individual movements, the numbers are largely shown nearly complete. Consequently, there’s little sense of the discipline involved, or the struggle for perfection that makes dance docus so engrossing.

Several times Decoufle and the staff discuss the need for “classy” acts — presumably the narrow strip of thin black fabric covering the women’s pudenda saves the show from vulgarity, though “classy” is stretching it a bit. Such nudity will preclude some smallscreen broadcasts, but in general there’s an innocence to this type of bare-ass display, combined with the mannequin coldness (caught so well by Helmut Newton) of perfect bodies.

Occasional shots of outdoor Paris remind viewers where it’s all taking place, especially necessary since the club is underground and therefore both time and place are skewed. Typically, with a Wiseman docu, even without explanations or direct interviews, he provides a well-rounded look at an institution. Together with his usual ace d.p. John Davey, the helmer makes auds feel as if every nook and cranny is familiar, giving the impression that individual judgments are being guided rather than manipulated.

Crazy Horse


Production: A Zipporah Films (in U.S.)/Sophie Dulac Distribution (in France) release of an Ideale Audience, Zipporah Films production, in association with Crazy Horse Prods., with the participation of Canal Plus, Planete Plus, CNC. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Pierre-Olivier Bardet, Frederick Wiseman. Directed, edited by Frederick Wiseman.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), John Davey; sound (Dolby), Wiseman; sound mixer, Emmanuel Croset. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days -- Special Event), Aug. 30, 2011 (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Real to Reel; New York Film Festival -- Special Events; San Sebastian Film Festival -- Zabaltegi Specials; London, Vancouver film festivals.) Running time: 134 MIN.

With: With: Philippe Decoufle, Ali Mahdavi, Fifi Chachnil. (French, English, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Aniara review

    Film Review: 'Aniara'

    Each year brings an example or three of purported “thinking person’s science-fiction” films, a category that pretty much embraces anything not centered on monsters or lightsaber battles. These efforts are often more admirable in theory than result, but “Aniara” — the first film drawn from Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s 1956 cycle of 103 [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

    It’s been a long year for Marvel fans since the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but the wait is nearly over. The finale to the Infinity Saga is here, and while most diehard fans will know to avoid them for fear of spoilers, early reviews are mostly positive. Last year’s “Infinity War” took home an [...]

  • American Made

    'American Made' Plane Crash Lawsuits End in Settlement

    The producers of the Tom Cruise film “American Made” have settled all litigation surrounding a 2015 plane crash in Colombia that killed two pilots. The settlement resolves pending suits in both California and Georgia. A notice of settlement was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court on Monday. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content