Frederick Wiseman, the fly-on-the-wall documentarian who long ago trained his camera on the students and teachers of Philadelphia's Northeast High (in 1968's High School) and who has, over the years, chronicled the inner workings of missile bases, hospitals, ballet companies, state legislatures, and boxing gyms, brings his observational style to bear, or bare, on the Crazy Horse Saloon, the Paris nude revue.
For the two hours plus of Crazy Horse, the camera pokes around the luxe cabaret, trolling the dressing rooms where the G-stringed dancers apply false eyelashes and flame-red wigs, prepping for the elaborate stage show - a show being seriously revamped by Crazy Horse's intense choreographer and director, Philippe Decouflé. This isn't Tony Soprano's Bada Bing club, but a top-drawer tourist destination, where champagne is served to men and women, and where the performers thrust and bend, kick and twirl, in a series of production numbers in which the stage and lighting accentuate breasts and buttocks, torso and more so. It's a chorus line of kaleidoscopic body parts. The idea is to be erotic, seductive, but often, through Wiseman's unforgiving lens, the effect is more anatomical, aloof, amusing.
Everyone works hard here, from the dancers, who show up early to work through rehearsals, to the costumers, to the front-office finance folks who must answer to shareholders, to the waitstaff and techies. Decouflé evinces an artist's intensity and passion, arguing (unsuccessfully) in a business meeting to have "Le Crazy" shuttered for a few weeks to totally rework the show, clean the spotlights, ready a new program. The dancers, with their uniform physiques, appear affable and engaged, although they balk at a proposed number that involves physical contact. "The girls hate touching each other," Decouflé laments.
Piggybacking on a couple of press interviews (the documentarian documenting the documentation of ...), Wiseman manages to weave a fair amount of exposition and explanation into the proceedings, and there's an audition sequence in which a dozen would-be Crazy Horse girls line up, stripped down, to be critiqued by Decouflé and his crew. One shows too much space between her thighs, one may be too short. The women stand there, upright, pushing their posteriors out obligingly, earnestly.
Another day (and night) in the life of Le Crazy.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.