Frederick Wiseman Gets Freaky At the Crazy Horse

Zipporah Films are getting better at this.  They have BDR options now, and I was pleasantly surprised to see their latest release's audio tracks were even lossless.  So all of Frederick Wiseman's recent films have at least decent HD options; it's just most of his back catalog that's relegated to standard def.  What's worse, most of them are interlaced.  So I was pleasantly surprised again, then, to realize that one of his previous films, Crazy Horse, has a unique HD option thanks to a blu-ray release in China.  Why has just this one particular film of his been so blessed, when I'd actually rank it among the least of Wiseman's works?  Probably because it's chock full of wall-to-wall nudity.
Crazy Horse is a famous, upscale exotic dance cabaret in Paris, France, and also credited as co-producers of this documentary.  Wiseman's studied similar theatrical venues in 2009's La Danse 1996's La Comédie-Française ou L'amour joué and 1995's Ballet; so this is nothing unexpected, apart from the fact that this is the only nudie revue.  Otherwise, as Wiseman documentaries go, this is standard stuff, showing us every aspect of the space, from the on-stage performances to the managers business meetings.  We see the audiences pose for photos, tech rehearsals, the staff preparing the meals, with the usual moody exterior location shots every so often... classic Wiseman.  And, reliably, there are some great moments captured, like the dancers backstage laughing at a tape of ballet bloopers or the managers getting surprised by a transgender performer amidst their auditions.
But Wiseman's decision to retain most of the dance numbers from beginning to end slows the film down to a bit of a crawl.  There are some genuinely strong aspects to the numbers; their creative use of scrims and a particularly clever dance with mirrors.  But you'll figure out quick that the Crazy Horse is mostly a one-trick pony: they project colorful, animated lights onto their dancers' bodies.  The end.  So on the one hand, they're certainly higher quality productions than you'll catch at your corner strip joint, but it still falls pretty short of a profound, high art experience.  We get to hear one song, the main Crazy Horse anthem, several times: they rehearse it, record it, stage it and eventually perform it for their audience: "Paris comes to the Crazy, The Crazy is Paris.  The Eiffel tower.  The Eiffel tower is all lit up like a girl of the Crazy.  What is your name?  D-E-S-I-R-E.!  You'll dream of the Crazy naked in your bed; the girls of the Crazy will watch over you.  D-E-S-I-R-E.!  The girls of the Crazy taste like champagne.  Champagne tastes like the girls of the Crazy."  By the third round, it really hit me: boy, this is a terrible song.  It gets more inane every time we return to it.  They're good dancers, but they're not great singers.  And even the dancing isn't that amazing.  As a Wiseman fan, this film is another intriguingly thorough portrait of an institution, albeit one of the drier ones (minus the easy thrill of naked bodies in nearly every scene), but it sure didn't make me run out to buy tickets.
Zipporah Films released Crazy Horse on DVDR right after its limited theatrical run in 2011.  This was still before they offered BDR options, so I ordered it because it was all there was.  At least at first.  But in 2012, blu-rays were released in China and France.  The French blu isn't English friendly, though, so for those of us who aren't fluent in the language of love, the Chinese blu from CN Entertainment is our only option.  But is it worth it, or just some kind of dodgy upconvert?
2011 Zipporah DVDR top; 2012 CN BD bottom.
Happily, it's a properly pressed, authentically 1080p HD blu.  Zipporah's MOD DVDR was new enough that it wasn't interlaced... exactly.  But as you can see in the first set of shots, it has some frame rate issues, and plays at PAL speeds despite being an NTSC DVD.  This Chinese blu plays at the correct speed (running 134 minutes instead of the DVD's 128), and as you can see, replaces the ghosting visible in the first set of shots.  It also changes the aspect ratio, from the DVD's 1.66 to 1.85:1, revealing more information along the sides, though it does trim a sliver along the top and bottom.  Honestly, it looks like they're both adding mattes to a naturally 1.78 image, but the Chinese disc uncovers more and, to my eye at least, generally looks nicer.  So unless Frederick Wiseman decrees 1.66 his preferred framing somewhere, I'd say CN's is the preferable framing.  And it's naturally sharper and clearer by virtue of being in HD.

Both discs give us the choice of two mixes, Dolby stereo and 5.1 mixes with optional English subtitles, but the tracks are lossless on the blu.  Another win for CN.  Plus, both discs are essentially barebones like every Wiseman release ever; but the blu-ray at least has the trailer, which is more than the DVD can say.
So yes, this blu-ray is a very welcome treat.  Perhaps I should mention that I did have some trouble getting it to play on my Samsung player.  It didn't want to load, and I had to keep ejecting and retrying it for a good ten minutes.  Hopefully it was just my copy (no troubles on PC drive, though), but either way, once it relented and loaded it played fine all the way through.  I sure wish CN would give the same treatment to the rest of Wiseman's catalog, but I suspect the market might not be as flush for the films where everybody keeps their clothes on.

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