A 'Crazy' Look at Paris Strip Palace

Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman Turns Serious Eye on Skin

Spectacle: The documentary takes the viewer inside the surprisingly engaging world of the Crazy Horse cabaret.
antoine poupel
Spectacle: The documentary takes the viewer inside the surprisingly engaging world of the Crazy Horse cabaret.

By Margot Lurie

Published April 23, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

We’d much rather hear from the individuals who actually expose themselves, the dancers; while they don’t tell their stories, we see their camaraderie and diligence, along with an endearing, unexpected wholesomeness. We watch one dancer brushing the horsehair tail that bisects her bare fesses, and several others howling around a videotape of Bolshoi bloopers. It was for strippers like these that H.L. Mencken coined the lofty term “ecdysiast.”

An exotic dancer prepares for her performance.
antoine poupel
An exotic dancer prepares for her performance.

Ecdysiasts or not, ballet is these dancers’ first language of instruction, and insiders will smile at the classical terminology (cambré, saut de chat, rétiré) used here to block out their bump-and-grind routines. Most viewers will be less familiar with the old burlesque techniques of strategic delay, like removing a stocking in eight counts when it really takes just four.

Unlike Darren Aronofsky, who shares Wiseman’s linked directorial interests in boxing and ballet, Wiseman films bodies in ways neither prurient nor prudish — and, of course, with none of Hollywood’s pyretic, choppy body doubling. Some of the dance numbers he films are original to Le Crazy, dating from the 1950s. In more cases, the numbers don’t show much artistic continuity with the cabaret’s old days, but they do convey something of the same saucy attitude, allowing for the passage of half a century. All are elegantly, meditatively captured by Wiseman: Three girls curling fingers and scissoring legs around a mirrored parquet; the bounce and arched backs of “Baby Buns”; the heartbreaking, brilliantly lit dancer writhing on a divan, cat-clawing the air to Antony and the Johnsons’ melancholy “Man Is the Baby.” It’s just a shame that the musical number ending the film is pure Vegas stripper kitsch, simultaneously cloying and clammy.

Neither Decouflé nor Mahdavi hesitates to invoke the word “art” on behalf of the cabaret, and when Decouflé, who studied under contemporary dance master Alwin Nikolais, performs some of the choreography himself — that is, when we see how arresting the dancing is, even on one simple, black-clad male body — we actually see what he means.

Or we think we do, until Decouflé yells for someone to bring a pair of moon boots to the girl in the revolving cage.

Margot Lurie, a former company member of ODC/Dance, is the editor of Jewish Ideas Daily. “Crazy Horse” is now in limited release.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.