Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Going Crazy

Tourists and locals alike adorent Paris's famed Crazy Horse cabaret. Ranked alongside the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre as a must-see when visiting the City of Lights, the club's burlesque-style celebration of the nude female form has been running strong since its founding in 1951.

Frederick Wiseman's new documentary Crazy Horse, now playing the US art house circuit, gives viewers an unparalleled backstage look at the production. Not unlike a Gallic version of the new TV series Smash, the film intersperses extended discussions amongst the show's directors, producers and designers with brilliantly-conceived musical numbers. The best dance showcased here is set in a whirling, airborne hoop illuminated by a stained-glass lighting effect. Other elegantly erotic -- and frequently sapphic -- pieces are featured (the more shadowy interludes often reminded me of Maurice Binder's classic James Bond title sequences), as well as some numbers devoted to pure kitsch/camp.

The central conflict explored by Wiseman is between Crazy Horse's director-choreographer Philippe Decoufle and the production's financiers. After decades of little change, Decoufle wants to shut the club down for an extended period of re-design and renovation. The producers are understandably hesitant, tending toward the old "Why fix something that isn't broken?" argument, but eventually give in. Wiseman uses this showdown to compose a modern chapter in the classic, never-ending saga of art vs. commerce.

Wiseman is a celebrated, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker responsible for 37 documentaries, including the highly-acclaimed Titicut Follies, Public Housing and La Danse-Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris. He tends to let the camera run with an apparent minimum of cuts and filmmaker interference, preferring to use the editing room to focus and finesse his findings. Wiseman's efforts in his latest work to show both the passion and the exacting process behind Crazy Horse gets tedious at times (the film runs well over two hours). Still, Wiseman provides a more thorough, less sensationalistic show business expose than most documentarians before him. Crazy Horse should be required viewing for adult students of direction and choreography for both theatre and film thanks to it's excellent treatment of the critical subject of artistic choices.

I was amused by insiders' frequent references in the film to Crazy Horse as "The Crazy," as well as when they identify talent who seem to have a particular understanding or appreciation of the club's aesthetic as simply "Crazy." Prudes and some gay men may object to the display of women's breasts and genitalia in Crazy Horse (there is a pair of male performers involved in the production but they are clothed). Call me crazy, but those who take issue ought to instead recognize the artistry and appreciate this troupe's dedication to achieving it over 60-plus years.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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