TIFF Review: CRAZY HORSE

The Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris has a reputation, at times bordering on legendary, of running the best cabaret in the world, and as been in business of doing so for over 60 years. One wonders if the establishment didn’t play a small part in the inspiration for Cirque Du Soleil. Indeed, a quick internet search shows that the clubs current choreographer, Phillip Decoufle, did a recent Cirque show. The Crazy’s particular brand of nude dancing often involves patterned light projected onto the dancers; kaleidoscopes on flesh akin to the opening credits of most James Bond films. The elaborate production design and stage dressing elevates this establishment far, far, far beyond your standard strip club. Details right down to how the bottles of sparkling wine are placed (and lit) on the patrons’ table tops are considered and controlled. Famed director Frederick Wiseman, gives us over two hours of the on stage business and the behind the scenes blood, sweat and tears in his signature ‘no talking heads, no voice-over’ style. Thus, Crazy Horse, the film, acts both as the best possible advertisement for the establishment, a sampling of many of the acts are shown, often as complete, gorgeously framed vignettes. It certainly is not hard on the eyes, as the club employs and showcases some of the best looking women on the planet, and Wiseman has a particular knack for shooting them in this particular environment.

You quickly come to realize that the Crazy Horse Saloon operates much like a theatre company, complete with wardrobe department, key lighting people, a number of artistic directors and of course the dancers. The company is large enough that the phrase ‘share-holder value’ comes up in a production meeting; indicator enough of the tensions between the business of making money, and the artistic vision of Phillip Decoufle and his people. Decoufle wants to shut the place down to re-invent some of the routines from scratch, and perfect the complex choreography of the show to the level he feels is deserving of Crazy Horse’s world-wide reputation. Wiseman deftly observes one of the artistic directors, a man with a shaved head who gives a couple of not so articulate interviews to the media over the course of the film (Decoufle’s reactions at the corner of Wiseman’s frame are both telling and amusing) and seems to indicate that a song/routine of his making may be below club standards. The costume designer gives a passionate speech about communication of the shows constant changes are not trickling down to her in time to do her job, particularly on costume quality – the dancers have to not only have their dance routines down perfect, but also need be aware of how the fabrics look in certain lighting conditions. In the meantime, there are a plethora of sequences involving the primping and grooming of the dancers in a dressing area that looks like the long, cluttered corridor of a WWII submarine. The some casual downtime as they watch a ‘ballet bloopers’ video giggling at the gaffes of the worlds elite dancers. Tensions about an act that involves the girls touching each other (more than usual, but not the way you think) are underscored, and the act is presumable scrapped. Of course from most of the stage routines in all their costumed and well lit glory look magnificent to these eyes. A wonderful tap routine is shown in its entirety which serves to underscore that the club is not completely about nude dancing, and is far more about elite level showmanship. It satisfying in a way that makes me want to either head straight for Paris or at least throw on Bob Fosse’s Cabaret.

One quickly comes to the realization how important the lighting is for the show, it comes up in nearly all the behind the scenes segments, as well as how the casting directors pick the dancers of a particular body type and height, presumably for interchangeable use of the costumes, but also so they hit their marks for the lighting. Elaborate screen silhouette dancing requires the performer to use their body to maximize shadow and perspective, on top of being silky and erotic. A later performance involves a woman seeming going from erotic need and frustration to fulfillment on a series of hanging ropes that looks as much like an olympic event than a sex act. Leopard print projections on two sweaty dancers is as effective and artistic as it is obvious. A near nude ‘Changing of the Queen’s Guard’ number is simultaneously insouciant and rigorous. the last, a fitting metaphor for the club and the film – both with seduce and entertain for 2 hours in the dark.