In the first 60 seconds of this documentary about Paris's famous Crazy Horse club -- a place that houses "the best chic nude show on Earth," according to its employees and throngs of devoted fans -- the goods are fully on display in the form of a nude female dancer singing a song about "a paroxysm of eroticism." This follows a scene of another unnamed female dancer in a recording studio making orgasm noises that could teach Donna Summer and Meg Ryan some lessons about how it's done. If you want evidence that even rigorously disciplined documentarians like Frederick Wiseman are out to shamelessly grab your attention, there you have it.
Not that there's a drop of exploitation going on here. There really isn't. Documentary addicts already know this, but Wiseman -- the 82-year-old master of non-fiction filmmaking -- has lately been obsessed with bodies. His 2009 film, La danse: le ballet de l'Opera de Paris, took a scientist's-eye view of a French ballet company and his 2010 effort, Boxing Gym, spent time observing the members of a working class Austin gym.
And observing without comment is what Wiseman does better than anyone. Obviously, the editing room shapes a director's point of view and to photograph anything is to alter it and present it filtered through your own sensibility. But the man is always working toward a hands-off approach that is never less than humane, even sometimes affectionate. And because he rejects narration, opinion and proselytizing, after watching one of his movies all you really know about him as a filmmaker is that he's fascinated by people moving and working and interacting with each other, regardless of what shape that takes. You see what his camera sees. And what his camera sees this time around is breasts. Lots and lots of breasts.
There are more naked bodies in this movie than you'd get if you watched Showgirls three times in a row, and there's a hilariously flippant Euro-tackiness to the production numbers (they involve astronaut helmets or have names like "Baby Buns," in which a chorus of women simultaneously swing their back-ends under glowing spotlights while complaining that all men do is stare at them), but equal time is given to the efforts of the lighting designers, choreographers, costume and wig designers and business meetings. There are just as many conversations about budgets as there are about the proper way to arch one's butt for maximum audience pleasure. It's a precisely engineered machine and all the parts are working together to make it feel like the Happiest Naked Place on Earth.
Wiseman captures the dancers' devotion to artistry: there are no breast implants, no lap dances, no poles to writhe on and a reluctance on the part of the women to touch one another in anything that resembles simulated sex. He also acknowledges the strange, overt "sexy"-ness of the place, a having-cake-and-eating-it scenario that somehow never feels disingenuous or sleazy. Best of all, the dancers are shown to be fully functioning adult women who don't fit into received "stripper" stereotypes. There's no time for damage or drama backstage, they're all too busy getting their costumes on or cracking up while watching YouTube clips of Russian ballet dancers falling on their faces.