Joshua Reviews Frederick Wiseman’s ‘Crazy Horse’ [Theatrical Review]

The happenings of a boxing gym.   A mental hospital and those who inhabit it.   A high school.   These are just a few of the topics that director Frederick Wiseman has touched upon throughout his various, and long standing, documentary film directing career. And now, a month following the director’s 82nd birthday, he’s back with yet another breathtaking bit of non-fiction filmmaking.   This time, with a bit of an erotic touch.

‘˜Crazy Horse’ follows the story of one of the world’s most iconic nude dance revues, the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris.   Formed in 1951 by Alain Bernardin, Wiseman’s film is not so much a documentary on the history of the show itself, but instead a behind the curtain type drama, looking at the making of the show, and all that goes with it.   With 15 shows on the docket each week, these women are both some of the most stunning specimens of their gender, while also being some of the most genuinely hard working.   It’s in this dichotomy between the viscerally moving and poetically choreographed dance sequences (numbers that seem ripped right out the show’s year of formation) and the extent to which these artists go to perfect their craft, that makes ‘˜Crazy Horse’ a picture unlike any you’ll see this early in 2012.

While lacking in a true narrative, outside of the inherent tension that is given to the viewer by the focus on the show’s creation, Wiseman doesn’t leave the viewer without something to chew on.   Throughout his career, Wiseman has often been to documentary film what a director like Jean-Luc Godard has been to narrative features.   Save for Godard’s often neo-mean spirited sense of intellectual confrontation (embodied perfectly and in its best form in his last film, ‘˜Film Socialisme’), both he and Wiseman have become filmmakers that truly allow their work to breathe on its own, leaving the viewer forced to make up his or her own mind as to what the piece is truly about.   Be it a mediation on the creative process, or a deeply effecting look into the pure visceral glory that is the female form with a sense of child-like wonder, ‘˜Crazy Horse’ is a film that is far more a piece of performance art than it is an actual piece of cinema.

That isn’t to say that the film isn’t absolutely gorgeous.   Wiseman’s frame is utterly assured here, getting a glimpse into the show’s most intimate creative moments (be it the brutal audition process or the meetings between director and choreographer), as well as some of the dance numbers an attendee would be privy to.   However, it’s the dance sequences that are the real star here, and not just because the women are utterly breathtaking.   Wiseman seems to have a sense of wonder when it comes to the female form, a style that gives these otherwise quite erotic dance sequences a sense of charm and pure artistic merit, making them far more emotionally moving than they are sexually charged.   From a charming and playful polka dot-lit group number, to a woman truly putting her heart on the dance floor to a broodingly poetic track by Antony And The Johnsons, ‘˜Crazy Horse’ shines when Wiseman allows his frame to linger on both the bodies and faces of these mindblowingly beautiful women.

Overall, ‘˜Crazy Horse’ is not a film for everyone.   A touch too long and far more meditative in form than most documentaries, fans of Wiseman will not be sorry for checking this film out.   Oozing Wiseman’s sense of intellectual freedom, the film is both seductively erotic, as well as massively thought provoking.   Unlike any documentary you’ll see, the film may be a better piece of performance art than it is a film, but it may just be this young year’s best piece of art period.

Here’s a list of upcoming screenings for the film, and more can be found here:


18-Jan New York – Film Forum
27-Jan Boston – Kendall Square
3-Feb Los Angeles – Nuart
3-Feb Providence – Cable Car Cinema
3-Feb Orange County – South Coast 3
10-Feb Seattle – SIFF Cinema
17-Feb Columbus – Gateway Film Center
18-Feb Hudson – Time and Space LTD
24-Feb Chicago – Music Box
24-Feb Washington – E Street
2-Mar Portland – Cinema 21
2-Mar San Francisco – Lumiere/Opera Plaza
2-Mar Rafael, CA – Rafael Film Center
2-Mar Berkeley – Shattuck 10
2-Mar Minneapolis – Lagoon
2-Mar Hartford – Real Art Ways
2-Mar New Orleans – Zeitgeist
9-Mar Santa Fe – CCA
9-Mar San Diego – Ken Cinema
9-Mar Rochester – George Eastman House
9-Mar Dallas – Angelika Film Center
9-Mar Nashville – Belcourt
16-Mar St. Louis – Tivoli
16-Mar Atlanta – Midtown Art
16-Mar Tulsa – Circle Cinema
16-Mar Denver – Chez Artiste
18-Mar Boulder – Boedicker Theater
23-Mar Detroit Detroit – Film Theater
30-Mar Philadelphia – Ritz
30-Mar Little Rock – Market Street Cinema
1-Apr Albuquerque – Guild Cinema
27-Apr Newburyport – MA Screening Room

More from Joshua Brunsting

For Criterion Consideration: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger

On his birthday we look back at one of his earliest works...
Read More

Leave a Reply