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Venus in furs… Striptease (1963)

Ah Nico… I saw her performing at Boodles 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.

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.

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).

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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