Crazy Horse: Frederick Wiseman Stares at Leggy French Girls

Recording the anthem “Les Filles du Crazy,” half a dozen women—performers at the Crazy Horse, Paris’ classy nudie cabaret—sing of themselves, “They are the soldiers of the erotic army.” The military metaphor proves apt, as Frederick Wiseman’s spellbinding documentary on the Crazy Horse, founded in 1951, shows: The dancers’ taut, perfectly proportioned bodies suggest Amazonian strength, and the battles between art and commerce at the nightclub drain even the most seasoned choreographers. Wiseman’s 39th film, in which his signature observational style dispenses with narration and identifying intertitles, completes his trilogies devoted to dance and to iconic French institutions. Yet none of the nonfiction master’s previous works have ever been as dominated by “nice, round buttocks.” The ass-thrusting, though, is part of a revue in which the erotic dancers are instructed when to deploy a retiré; that many of them have been trained in ballet is apparent not only in their graceful movements but also in the catty glee they share backstage while watching a Bolshoi blooper reel. The offstage drama is played out in meetings, as Andrée, the Crazy’s managing director, shoots down choreographer Philippe’s requests immediately. The beauty captured by Wiseman and his longtime cinematographer, John Davey—of the performers, their motions, and the mauve scrims that frame their silhouettes—is summed up in Andrée’s definition of eroticism: “The ultimate thing is to suggest without offering oneself.” Every shot and edit in Crazy Horse also suggests without overexplaining.