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    Study of movement still moves director Frederick Wiseman

    Antoine Poupel
    A scene from “Crazy horse,” a new documentary about Le Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris.

    Here are some things to be aware of regarding Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, “Crazy Horse,’’ which opens in Boston on Friday. First, it has nothing to do with Neil Young. Second, its subject - Le Crazy Horse Saloon - is an all-female dance revue in Paris, and the dancers are often nude. Wiseman spent 10 weeks shooting in the club in 2009. He watched the dancers rehearse and the directors and craftspeople administrate.

    John Ewing/Zipporah Films
    “I felt that the rehearsals were more erotic than the show. In my view, it’s because they’re normal-looking women,” said Frederick Wiseman, director of "Crazy Horse.”

    The documentary, his 37th, is the latest in a phase of Wiseman’s movies - “Ballet’’ (1995), “La Danse’’ (2009), and “Boxing Gym’’ (2010) - interested in bodily expression and the halls, studios, stages, and training facilities in which that expression occurs. “Crazy Horse’’ also provided Wiseman with another professional excuse to spend time in Paris, a city he loves. But even at 82 he won’t rest. He’s just begun editing a film on the University of California, Berkeley.

    Wiseman is a compact man with big blue eyes and a distinctive, hard-boiled voice. (He sounds like a detective or newsman in a black-and-white movie.) On a recent damp morning, Wiseman sat on a sofa in the editing suite of a Cambridge townhouse where he shares a homely office with his assistants. His movies are shot and edited digitally now, but he’s held onto his assortment of film editing bays. They’re important furniture: This is where the magic happened.


    Wiseman discussed making “Crazy Horse,’’ his status as a venerated filmmaker, and how rehearsing a sexy dance can be sexy in a different way. What follows is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.

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    Q. Did you consider other nightclubs before choosing the Crazy Horse?

    A. No. I came upon it by chance. I was in Paris anyway, because I had just finished “La Danse,’’ and I was having dinner with a French friend of mine and she said, “Have you ever thought about doing a French nightclub?’’ And I said I’d been looking. And she said we should go to some. So we went to the Moulin Rouge. It was these statuesque women with bananas on their heads, not doing anything particularly interesting. I fell asleep.

    Then I went to the Crazy Horse. I thought the girls were quite attractive, and I discovered that this French choreographer, Philippe Decouflé, who had done the opening and closing ceremony for the [1992] French Olympics, was restaging a show at the Crazy. And it was the first restaging since the founder and owner of the Crazy Horse had died about 15 years before. When I went, it was mainly the old show. I think there was one new number that Decouflé had introduced. But I liked it. I met him, and I liked him. And I thought it would be interesting to follow the rehearsals for another kind of dance show.

    Q. And they were on board with you doing what you do?


    A. Sure. They left me alone. They liked the idea of being filmed. And, for me, it’s a small club and easy to keep track of. There was nothing I couldn’t shoot.

    Q. This film might contain some of your funniest material.

    A. I think so.

    Q. There’s a wonderful sequence in which Decouflé dramatically cringes as the club’s artistic director gives this over-the-top description for a TV camera.

    A. His name is Ali Mahdavi. He’s a photographer. But he was brought in because he was very familiar, as he announces, with what he thought of as the Crazy Horse brand. I thank the Lord that I’ve led an honest and clean life, because I knew when I heard that speech that it was just what the movie needed. I’ve never been so lucky as to get someone whose facial expression tells the whole story.


    Q. You get the sense that dancers are somewhat equal collaborative partners.

    A. The myth is that they’re call girls. But they’re not. They’re ordinary, attractive, 20-to-mid-30-year-old women who went to dance conservatoires and weren’t quite good enough to make the major dance companies but like to dance and don’t have any qualms about dancing naked.

    Q. Watching the rehearsals, you appreciate that the arrangement of eroticism is not not erotic.

    A. I felt that the rehearsals were more erotic than the show. In my view, it’s because they’re normal-looking women. They didn’t have wigs on. They didn’t look like Barbies.

    Q. You’ve had lots of tributes and several major retrospectives. You’ve been made aware that people think you’re a great director. I’ve seen people go crazy when they meet you. Does that ever get tired?

    A. It’s great that people like the movies. I never get tired of that. Sometimes you hear the same questions over again. I should say, though, that if I’m going to agree to make a public appearance and answer questions, then I answer all of them, even if the question is one I’ve heard a thousand times.

    Q. What’s a question you’ve heard a thousand times?

    A. Does the camera change behavior? How many feet of film do you shoot? Sometimes after a two- or three-hour film - this happened once in Paris after a screening of “Welfare’’ - someone asked, what’s the movie about? So I said, “About three hours.’’

    Q. Some people just want a director to confirm what they think.

    A. But I don’t think my movies are obscure. Part of the job in making the movie is having it be clear enough so that somebody can understand. I get asked to explain the movies, but that’s just not my job. In my movies, I’m asking my audience to participate. I’m not underlining - at least, I hope I’m not underlining - what’s there. You have to tell yourself what it is you’re looking at.

    Wesley Morris can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @wesley_morris.