Sentinel Arts Contributor
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
CRAZY HORSE, the latest from documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, is the ultimate expression in backstage reality. It concerns the world renowned Parisian nightclub which is set to open a new show in about ten weeks – “Désirs”. Crazy Horse, the club, is the very last word in Nude Chic. As a legendary Parisian must-see, Crazy Horse is rivaled only by the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. An Opening Night at Crazy Horse represents the single hottest ticket in town. Wiseman and his camera crew arrive just in time to chronicle the rehearsal process and the artistic realization of “Désirs”. He will follow the show’s choreographer, world renowned Philippe Decouflé, and capture the crazy energies and frustrations that go with birthing a vision into three-dimensional marketable reality. It soon becomes clear to the choreographer – especially from the ten semi-naked perfectly matched always bare-breasted girls who would rather not have a lot of touchy-feely going on in any of the show’s many routines – that, somewhere between now and the opening, somebody or something’s gotta give.
The world of Crazy Horse is all about the enticing mystery of female eroticism. Everything is uncovered in this 2-hour documentary about arriving to and narrowing down the visual and musical expression of that essence and then exploiting it as great performance art – like nowhere else in the world. The Artistic Director at Crazy Horse, who admits to being totally obsessed with the club’s reputation for artistic perfection, describes the end product this way. “It’s a supreme achievement of beauty under various forms. I have to pinch myself to make sure I belong to this place of ultimate refinement, beauty and desire.”
Zula Zazou. Photo, Francois Mori
Throughout his ten weeks of filming, Wiseman makes us the eye witness to the intense drama of actualizing these illusions of desire. A recurring stumbling block for choreographer Decouflé is the club’s dysfunctional system of communication between him and its technical staff, the lighting and sound designers, the costume and wig makers, and the expectations of the club’s financial backers. He suggests that Crazy Horse should close for a while, totally shut the door on its sold-out fifteen performances-a-week money maker and just start over. That doesn’t work for the club’s investors. “We claim to have the best nude dancing show in the world,” Decouflé complains to the manager, “and that we’re renewing this type of show. So give me the means to achieve it! If we want a dazzling premiere that will impress the intellectuals and all, let’s make it happen.”
Decouflé’s choreography is an amalgamation of the ultra refined and the super-erotic. Each of his separate acts is a completely realized statement about the female form divine. “You can’t do as you please with the girls,” complains the costume designer to Decouflé. “They do the splits, facing the audience or whatever. You don’t take chances with a naked girl!” The exquisite showgirls are caressed by the very latest of fine and inventive theatrical fabrics. They are bathed in projections of glittering showers, kaleidoscopic colors, polka dots and leopard spots which tease and fondle their nearly-identical and perfect bodies. The imagination is frequently stirred with the use of back-lit silhouettes. At Crazy Horse, the performer must be versed in ballet, nouveau cirque, yoga, and the raw energies of pole dancing. Allowing for a shimmer of wiggle room, the “Crazy Horse Girl” is in a category that is ultimately rare, narrowly defined, and supremely charismatic.
Frederick Wiseman’s “Crazy Horse”
Towards the end of the documentary, Director Wiseman includes the audition held for replacements. By now, we recognize the candidates who are not going to make it through to the first cut. Backstage, the assistant choreographer says to the group of hopefuls, “Don’t stress out. You’ll go on stage with just a G-string and your shoes if you want. This audition is meant to see your body proportions and physical aspect. It’s not about your dancing or performing capacities. Be pretty, classy, relaxed, and push your buttocks out. We’ll see who’s a dancer and who’s not anyway.” A flat-chested transexual was the first to get bumped.
Frederick Wiseman has made 37 documentaries and 2 fiction films. Among his documentaries are Titicut Follies, Welfare, Public Housing, Near Death, La Comédie Française ou l’Amour Joué, and La Danse—Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris. His documentaries are dramatic, narrative films that seek to portray the joy, sadness, comedy and tragedy of ordinary experience. He has won numerous awards including four Emmys, a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
CRAZY HORSE is now playing at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco, Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
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