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Frederick Wiseman on “Crazy Horse,” Shooting Nudity and Why Technique is Only 40% of Filmmaking

Frederick Wiseman on "Crazy Horse," Shooting Nudity and Why Technique is Only 40% of Filmmaking

Frederick Wiseman was once known as the guy who documents institutions. Now he is an institution, a living legend of American documentary who has made nothing but significant observational nonfiction works for 45 years. His films are distinctly subjective while passing on an illusion of complete objectivity. Somehow both first-person and fly on the wall at the same time.

His latest doc is titled Crazy Horse, and it’s about the Paris cabaret of the same name. A club with classy nude shows, many of which can be viewed in the film. So yes, it might just be his most commercial work ever, even if for the wrong reasons. But it’s no sell out piece and if nudity is gets people to see the brilliance of a Wiseman, so be it. Just as it’s fine if its the nudity that gets people to look at a Manet or Gauguin or any other nude artwork.

I talked with Wiseman back in September, when “Crazy Horse” had its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Topics included the new film, old films, influences and his personal documentary techniques. Here is our conversation:


Can this film be shown on PBS?

No. Think of the reaction of America a few years ago when Janet Jackson allegedly inadvertently revealed her breast at the Super Bowl.

I assume that was a comical question.

It was. But I thought it worth noting because your films are typically funded and air on PBS.

They are. PBS has in fact supported every single film except this one.

So how did that come about?

Well I didn’t go to PBS, because I just knew they wouldn’t be able to do it. I mean, it would be out of the question. Given the political climate in the United States, for PBS to support a film that has beautiful naked women… Not just PBS. None of the commercial networks. The only chance for this to be on television would be cable. And my guess is it will be on cable. I haven’t tried to make any arrangements yet. But PBS is not unique in not running a film like this. CBS, NBC, ABC, they wouldn’t run it either.

Maybe HBO? But I’m not certain even they could or would run this in prime time.  I don’t know because I don’t watch, but I know 20 years ago HBO did a show on the Crazy Horse. 20-25 years ago. So I would suspect that one of the cable channels in America would want it.

Continue reading the interview here at the Documentary Channel Blog.

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