Here she plays Ariane, a young ballet dancer with dreams of stardom. In order to pay the rent she accepts a job in an upmarket strip club. At first, unable to go the whole way, she runs off the stage in tears. But soon she devises a unique act that captivates audiences and elevates her to star status in the competitive world of the 1960’s Paris strip tease scene.
Featuring music by Serge Gainsbourg, this is the only mainstream movie in which Nico had a starring role. Her stunning looks and unearthly allure grace almost every scene. A must for Nico fans and for anyone interested in the cool chic of 1960s Paris night life.
eyelights: Nico. its cinematography. its sexy bits.
eyesores: Nico. its typical plot.
“She’s my friend. She’s a lady.”
I don’t understand strip-teasing. Though I went to a handful of clubs whilst in my teens, I soon saw the meaninglessness of the activity: if I wanted naked flesh, going to a strip show only exacerbated my condition.
I mean, if I didn’t have a partner, when I walked out of there I was worse off than when I started. And, if I already did have a partner, then why wasn’t I simply *ahem* pressing the flesh with her? This puzzles me.
So I stopped going.
Inexplicable though it may be to me, strip-teasing remains popular with the masses, and has been since time immemorial. Even with an endless stream of online porn, there’s just something about seeing it in the flesh.
In 1962, French director Jacques Poitrenaud decided to make a movie about strip-teasing. He hired budding actress (and future singer) Nico for the lead role and told the story of Ariane’s rise as a topless performer.
The movie was released in 1963 and quickly disappeared from circulation.
After its failure, Poitrenaud never showed the film again. Nico also never talked about her first starring role. It was so buried that it wasn’t even available on home video anywhere until its 2011 North American DVD release.
‘Strip-tease’ is a lost gem – albeit a minor one.
While the plot is relatively conventional, being about a once-promising ballet dancer rising from the ashes of her career to become the surprise star of a topless cabaret, there are a few aspects that make this stand out.
Firstly, there’s Nico, who’s mesmerizing, yet largely vacant; it’s as though she wasn’t really there, like a walking mannequin. Perhaps this was intentional, but her disconnect made for an unusual viewing experience.
Still, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her.
She’s not exactly what one would call a superb actress here, lacking warmth or other human traits. Interestingly, her mouth was painted narrowly here, much smaller than her actual lips, adding to her alien quality.
Next there’s the aesthetic quality of the film, which was shot in sumptuous b&w, in lovely locales, and which is backed by a soundtrack courtesy of Serge Gainsbourg (who also makes a quick cameo playing in a piano bar).
Add to this the relative abundance of pristine female forms, which surprised me given the time in which the picture was made, and ‘Strip-tease’ is a picture that can be a treat to watch despite the triteness of the plot.
But even that‘s spiced by key elements, such as Ariane’s friendship with Sam, an African-American piano player who’s her Jiminy Cricket, Jean-Loup’s eccentric friends, and the tug she feels between her old life and new one.
She’s not an easy sell-out.
I was especially taken by the fact that Ariane proved herself, but then chose to return to her roots, preferring a simpler life. She didn’t spiral downward and get rescued. She didn’t even make poor or regretful choices.
She just took a break from her life.
Then returned to it.
These types of stories usually come in two flavours: 1) the protagonist puts the past behind them and, like a beautiful butterfly, is reborn in a new life, or 2) our desperate protagonist gets sucked into the void forever.
It’s either redemption or destruction.
In ‘Strip-tease’, we find healing. And, though the trajectory is relatively conventional, it was nice for it to have a different motive and outcome. That, plus Nico, mean that I’m more likely to watch this again someday.
I’m glad that it was rescued after all these years. “Strip-tease’ may not be grand cinema, but it’s a piece of history that deserves to be safeguarded: at the very least, it’s a major step in the making of a ’60s pop culture icon.
In Nico, Warhol would soon find his Chelsea Girl.
And that‘s significant.
Date of viewing: April 30, 2017