Frederick Wiseman‘s documentary about a Parisian erotic dance club, which I went to upon hearing of its profound sociological content from the New York Times, is every bit as engrossing as promised. I did not need to be sold on its central premise, that nude, or partially nude, dancing can be seriously artistic. That has been apparent for years in modern and post-modern dance, whether from Eiko + Komo or even a group like Pilobolus with its skin-colored and -tight body suits and shifting sculptural forms.

Of course the acts documented in CRAZY HORSE are of a different order and for a different audience, but in the main they are by no means prurient. Some are pure kitsch (one barely notices the exposed bodies for all the glitter), some sculptural (a popularized version of the modern dance tradition), and a few overtly seductive (but never, at least in the film, explicit). Some of the numbers are fluff, others remarkable, particularly one in which a still camera focuses at an angle on the subtle movements of a single backside, precisely – and challengingly – cued to the music.

The dancers, the producers, and the choreographer are seriously minded, skilled, creative and well-trained, and the result is remarkably tasteful given the milieu. In any case, most of the footage is behind the scenes – business dealings, design sessions, costume fittings, production meetings, interviews, rehearsals. If there is any exploitation going on at this particular club, other than in the theoretical sense that all such showing and looking is a violation of some sort, it is not evident from the film and no flags go up to suggest that the reality of life at the Crazy Horse is being whitewashed.

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