Neely Swanson

Crazy Horse: an erotic French saloon and the fine art of seduction [MOVIE REVIEW]

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frederich wiseman

“Crazy Horse,” Frederick Wiseman’s documentary on the legendary Parisian cabaret, opens tomorrow (Friday) and plays for one week at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Los Angeles.

Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, as the old saying goes, and the French have long been leaders in the art of seduction, personally and professionally. The Moulin Rouge is forever engraved in the art of Toulouse Lautrec; the Follies Bergères had Josephine Baker; the Lido, famous for its Bluebell Girls, added cabaret. And then there’s The Crazy Horse Saloon which, founded in 1951 by Alain Bernardin, quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Paris.

“Crazy Horse” opens on the bright eyes and mischievous grin of a beautiful young woman moaning orgasmically into a microphone, a titillating red herring leading the viewer to anticipate undulating bodies and writhing sex as might befit what some consider the most erotic strip club in the world, the Crazy Horse Saloon of Paris, France. Nothing, however, could be more misleading for sex is not on the menu, something much more elusive and seductive is – eroticism. “Crazy Horse,” the latest documentary by renowned filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, is about illusion, sensuality and the celebration of the female form. The Crazy Horse Saloon has as much in common with the Bada Bing as La Tour d’Argent has with McDonalds – they are from different planets. Wiseman, the writer/director/editor of the film, lovingly takes us back stage to watch how a new act is put together and then places us in a center booth, champagne in hand to watch the results.

That there is nudity goes without saying. Breasts and buttocks abound. The routines, especially one entitled “Baby Buns,” glorify the body with an emphasis on the derrière. And what derrières they are – perfectly round as often imagined and rarely seen in nature. The women do not gyrate, they undulate gracefully on stage in beautiful, minimalist costumes designed by the resident designer, Fifi (I’m not making this up, there really are women named Fifi) and her team. Breasts forward, buttocks arched and toes pointed, these women are professional dancers, most trained in ballet, and are rightfully very proud of their bodies. The competition to be chosen as a Crazy Horse girl is fierce. The ideal girl has smallish breasts, always real never “enhanced,” rounded rear, medium height and dance training.

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Backstage, Philippe Decouflé is busy choreographing and rehearsing some new numbers in an effort to rejuvenate the overall program that has become, in his opinion, very frayed around the edges. He desperately needs the time to redesign the lighting, teach the routines and work on the sets. Closing the club for a few weeks would be ideal but, as the club’s CEO points out to him, the stockholders won’t allow it because closing means losing the revenue of 2 shows nightly with 3 on Saturday in a cabaret that is always sold out. Decouflé will just have to make do with what is available to him – the talented beautiful dancers who are able to convey innocence and eroticism while they dance his seductive, sensual and oftentimes slyly humorous numbers usually wearing very little or nothing at all. The girls are young, talented, lovely and fresh; the audience, primarily couples, is quietly respectful of what they are shown (nudity where everything is still left to the imagination).

Curiously, Wiseman, an experienced and multi-award-winning documentarian makes that most amateur of mistakes – an inability to put together a cohesive story given all the elements present – the girls at all stages of production, in rehearsal clothes going through their routines, backstage undressing and anointing their bodies with the jeweled G-strings that comprise their costumes, onstage dancing and performing, and backstage kibitzing the choreography of the latest routines; Decouflé choreographing the routines, illustrating the steps and rehearsing the dancers, going through the lighting design with the technicians; the preparation of the cabaret booths with their individual buckets of champagne and signature Crazy Horse flutes; the production meetings discussing the technical aspects of the show. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to be bored by the human body but “Crazy Horse” is so repetitive and redundant as to be sleep inducive – seriously, in the midst of a forest of breasts and buns I actually dozed off. This is a problem that would have been easily remedied if not for the ego of the filmmaker because at 134 minutes, the film is 44 minutes too long. How much more enjoyable this film would have been had it been as tightly constructed as the jeweled thongs worn by the Crazy Horse girls.

Still, “Crazy Horse” celebrates the human form and is surprisingly non-exploitative. Besides, the price of a movie ticket is considerably less than the price of admission to the cabaret (and that’s not including the ticket to Paris). Despite some snooze-worthy moments, the film brought back the fond and very sharp memories of the time that my French aunt treated my fiancé (now husband) and me to an evening at the Crazy Horse. Despite the flaws of the film and its unwieldy length, it’s interesting to see how the art of seduction is manufactured. So sit back, relax and get an eyeful.

Opening Friday February 3 at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles.

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film called No Meaner Place.

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