In 2009 renowned documentarian (love that word) Frederick Wiseman spent months accumulating 150 hours of footage at the Crazy Horse in Paris, a venue that “boasts the greatest and most chic nude dancing in the world”. Unfortunately the result is a dull, over-long documentary with nothing to say. I’ll admit to being ignorant about Wiseman’s oeuvre so maybe need some educating in order to appreciate better his cinéma vérité style.
I understand that Wiseman likes to film his subjects as they are with no interviews or talking heads, but surely he could have still found a more interesting two hours worth in the 150 he shot? A massive proportion of the film is made up of extended footage of performances at the Crazy Horse, often a whole dance is presented. While entertaining and pleasing to the eye, this fails to get under the surface of the operation.
Highlights of the film are the moments when the dancers are not performing, be it during a live show or in rehearsal, what is more revealing is how they spend their down time (watching ballet blooper reels) and the meetings between management where business and artistic objectives clash.
In the second half of the film it is as if Wiseman wishes he would allow himself to interview the staff so resorts to filming the management as they are interviewed by French journalists. Wiseman finds a loophole in his own rule making the rule itself farcical.
The footage itself is well shot, the Crazy Horse and it’s inhabitants look stunning but I can’t help but feel that a better piece could have been assembled from the raw materials available. After two hours of Crazy Horse I was tired and bored, and considering the number of people who left, never to return, I wasn’t the only one.
After the film Frederick Wiseman appeared to do a Q&A but I scarpered. I needed fresh air and didn’t trust him not to overstay his welcome; I had another film to see. Sure enough, as I headed for my next appointment I overheard staff explaining to a long queue that there was a delay in their screen, the very screen I had escaped from 30 minutes before.
Robert Wiseman has a great eye, but could just do with refining his editing his little. So says the humble blogger about an award-winning documentarian.
Crazy Horse has a second screening at the London Film Festival on Wednesday 19th October.