Try digitalPLUS for 10 days only $0.99

Entertainment

Entertainment

'Crazy Horse': Legendary documentarian lays bare a cabaret's appeal ✭✭✭

Coming after the great "Boxing Gym" (2010), which revealed a universe of sweaty truth inside an Austin, Texas, punching-bag emporium, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's"Crazy Horse" settles for a bit less. The subject is smaller and, weirdly, more modest: the Paris cabaret known as the Crazy Horse, providing locals and visitors with naked and semi-clothed women since 1951 in a celebration (according to its web site) of "beauty, raw talent and personality of the sensual dancers in an unimitable, sophisticated and glamourous way." I think they mean "inimitable," but you get the idea.

The idea wasn't new in '51, and certainly it's even less new now. From the Moulin Rouge to London's Windmill Theatre to the onstage flesh peddled in a little town called Las Vegas, where official and unofficial Crazy Horse spin-offs remain in rotation in and among all the Cirque du Soleil shows, the nude revue has been good business. Early Broadway was no stranger to the concept, either, though with a few more strategically placed garments, dating back to Ziegfeld's "glorification of the American girl" and the more down-market "Earl Carroll's Vanities."

Wiseman's film concerns the creation of the latest Crazy Horse topless and sometimes bottomless revue, "Desir." Per Wiseman's custom there is no narration, no on-screen expository information about who's who, or what happened when. His camera — his eagle-eyed, patient, intuitive camera — follows the performers backstage, engages in conversation with the costume designer, pauses to catch a stunning, sweetly comical shot of table after table bearing buckets of champagne, hours before the cabaret opens to the public.

The revue's director, Philippe Decoufle, and the jumpy, self-admittedly "obsessive" artistic director Ali Mahdavi, find themselves working in somewhat compromised rehearsal and budgetary conditions. Mahdavi's the Eve Harrington of this world, eager to take more control of the onstage results than Decoufle will allow. The performers, who (spoiler alert) look pretty good, are neither sentimentalized nor unduly ennobled by Wiseman. At one point, the woman managing the auditions for the next revue warmly reminds the multinational batch of hopefuls: "Be pretty, classy, relaxed, don't stress out." Pause. "And push your buttocks out."

When we see what's actually being delivered on stage, it's clear this Parisian institution has one eye on the present and another on the past. In silhouetted segments recalled '60s and '70s era James Bond opening credits, the women are objectified utterly; they're simply shadows, playing, langorously, at images of female pliability, availability, enticement. One Crazy Horse staffer, also female, is asked on camera by a visiting journalist to define the cabaret's notion of eroticism. To "suggest," she says. To "seduce."

The key word in the seduction? She answers: "Restraint." In other words, Wiseman's film — a minor but absorbing chapter in a crucial filmmaker's book of images and subjects — cannot locate a single stripper's pole anywhere in the vicinity of the Crazy Horse.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Crazy Horse' -- 3  stars

No MPAA rating (copious female nudity); in French with English subtitles.

Running time: 2:14

Opens: Friday at the Music Box Theatre.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • J.K. Rowling can't unsee Neville Longbottom's underwear, or Matthew Lewis'

    J.K. Rowling can't unsee Neville Longbottom's underwear, or Matthew Lewis'

    Neville Longbottom he is not! "Harry Potter" alum Matthew Lewis is showing off what's been under his wizard's cloak this whole time in Attitude magazine — and it does not disappoint. Unless, that is, you're J.K. Rowling. We're SO excited to unveil our new cover star - the amazing @Mattdavelewis!...

  • 'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual...

  • Video review: Taylor Swift's 'Bad Blood' video

    Video review: Taylor Swift's 'Bad Blood' video

    With the amount of promotional pictures that were posted to Instagram over the last few weeks, one would expect Taylor Swift’s newest music video to be a knockout on screen. “Bad Blood,” her latest vengeful single written towards a backstabbing friend, sounds like the kind of song that would call...

  • The creepiest clowns from movies and TV

    The creepiest clowns from movies and TV

    In (dis)honor of the attack-y toy clown from the remake of "Poltergeist" (out Friday) and, well, because we believe in public service messages, here's the clowns to avoid on the big and small screens. Unless you're a glutton for punishment.

  • 'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    There's an alien feel to "Slow West," an unconventionally conventional Western about a romantic tenderfoot provided safe passage to the frontier by a grizzled, unsentimental gunman.

  • 'Poltergeist' review: Spiritless reboot is heeeere

    'Poltergeist' review: Spiritless reboot is heeeere

    The closing credits for Gil Kenan's remake of the 1982 horror classic "Poltergeist" feature the band Spoon covering the Cramps' 1980 punk classic "TV Set." Spoon is a tasteful, studious yet largely anodyne indie-rock outfit that has become an NPR staple; the Cramps were a scuzzy, unhinged psychobilly...

Comments
Loading

61°