Saturday, 28 November 2015

Venus in furs… Striptease (1963)

Ah Nico… I saw her performing at Scamps club in Oxford in 1982 backed by The Blue Orchids – a true icon who carried herself with grace even during what was clearly one of her “difficult” periods: she fell off stage at one point but when she performed Waiting for the Man my friend Jon stood transfixed and wept. This Nico, our Nico… a Velvet.

Born Christa Päffgen in Colgne, Nico had initially worked as a model before appearing in small acting roles most notably in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. She studied with Lee Strasberg whilst living in New York and made this film in Paris in 1962 sometime around the time of her affair with Alain Delon.

I'll be your mirror..
Directed by Jacques Poitrenaud Striptease was a Franco-Italian production that was based at the legendary Crazy Horse club (well it’s had a documentary on Sky Arts) and aims to show the glamourous side of the business of a lot of show. It’s interesting to compare with Expresso Bongo and Beat Girl which attempted to do the same for Soho. Both those films are less explicit but in some ways more seedy than this one.

But in terms of cool the Brits can’t hope to compete for, as well as Nico, this film also boast music and an appearance from Serge Gainsbourg… rather more impressive than Harry Webb.

Serge Gainsbourg, Joe Turner and Nico
Nico plays Ariane a dancer aiming to make it big in musical theatre but whose big chance seemingly evaporates when an established ballet star needs a new direction. She can stay on the show but it won’t be the same and she walks out.

She runs into an old friend Berthe (Dany Saval) who is well dressed and fed, living a comfortable life as, she reveals, a show girl called Dodo Delight… but of course. She invites Ariane to her workplace where she naturally turns the head of the club’s director, Paul (Darry Cowl).

Darry, Dany and Nico watch...
The problem is, Ariane is shy and doesn’t want to reveal too much which would seem to be a major handicap in this branch of stage craft. But then, inspiration strikes as Ariane mirrors a marionette in moving stiffly and being unable to take all her own clothes off. She goes down a storm and the Crazy Horse has a new star!

There are some great shots of the audience reaction and unlike Beat Girl’s seedy raincoat brigade, the club seems as full of women as men: more legitimate entertainment?

Honey, Doll or possibly Rafa?
We are given a thorough run through of the club’s other assets as Honey Liberty, Doll Rose and Rafa Temporal (actual stage names!) go through their routines – a real period piece.

Bringing art to the part
Meanwhile Ariane confides in her friend Joe Turner a real-life American pianist and one of many black jazzers who made a living in France (Miles Davis lived there for a while enjoying a more tolerant society than elements of his home country). Joe’s a wise old bird and recognises the pitfalls of his pal’s new direction. He’s seen so many dance this way and succumbing to the lure of wealth for favour… ending up on the scrapheap or worse once their looks have faded.

The watchers
Sure enough Ariane’s temptation soon arrives in the form of the rake-ish bored millionaire Jean-Loup (John Sobieski) who tries to win her over with masses of flowers, jewellery and, of course fur… but is he genuine with these rings and things: you know money can’t buy you love.

Ariane refuses to be sure of Jean and this of course, drives him even further on in his pursuit. Gradually she starts to trust enough to accept his love and those expensive expressions of his affections.

Sunday morning
Yet, when Jean takes her home to meet his family, he throws her profession in their face as an expression of his independence and wild spirit succeeding in blackmailing them into topping up his funds on the condition that they do not under any circumstances, what-so-ever get married…

Spoilers… Jean things he’s been rather smart but, of course, Ariane is far from impressed and he is devastated when she exacts the most appropriate revenge ion the film’s best moment. It turns out that diamonds aren’t actually a girl’s best friend.

The Family
Jean is confused but Ariane has her purpose renewed and, as Joe smiles on she resolves to return to dancing with clothes.

Christa Päffgen aka Nico
Dusty verdict: Striptease is a more than competent morality tale and doesn’t take itself so seriously that it fails to entertain.

It stands and falls with Nico who performs pretty well her characteristic Germanic drawl cutting through the French dialogue as she moves gracefully through proceedings. She is, as ever, detached which fits perfectly with her character’s reluctance to commit. As in life, perhaps she felt there was another, better party to go to tomorrow?

The film is available on DVD from Amazons.

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