Strip-tease (1963)


Ariane (Nico before she sang with The Velvet Underground) is a professional dancer and lands her big break when she wins the lead part in her struggling ballet troupe’s newest production.  The producer gets cold feet and decides to bring in a slumming big name opera star as a larger draw she is cut from the lead and given walk on roles which she finds insulting.  Behind on her rent and unable to even afford her dance lessons, Ariane finds herself looking for another way to make it.

She meets Bertha, one of her former troupe mates from Zürich.  She tells Ariane that she has changed her name to Dodo Voluptuous and seems to be extremely well off now that she is married to a wealthy man who owns an upscale Paris strip club.  Dodo, knowing Ariane is struggling, invites her to the club to introduce her to her husband, Paul.  At the strip club, Le Crazy, Ariane is awestruck and not sure how the women can bring themselves to perform onstage.  Meanwhile a sultry brunette wearing a net writhes on a net hammock and looks vulnerable and in control simultaneously as she works the enrapt crowd.


She talks to her friend Sam (jazz and blues artist Big Joe Turner), a jazz pianist and bar owner familiar
with the Paris nightlife, and he tells her she would not be a good fit as a nightclub dancer.  He says its an easy life and one that she would not fit into for a long while. When she leaves the table she leaves her slippers behind symbolically leaving ballet behind for the life of an nightclub entertainer.  She places herself under Paul and Dodo’s tutelage, both of them offering her pointers on the art of the tease.  He teaches her that while she strips she must look at the audience with contempt and they must feel she despises them in order to attract their desire.  Despite all of their help she still comes across as wooden which leads Paul to develop a routine where there is a puppeteer on stage with her and she mimics the moves of the marionette.  She loses it and runs off the stage though the audience loves the routine.


Ariane quickly becomes quite well off and invites Sam over to her place to show him around.  Sam continues to act as her conscience and though she is making enough to support herself by getting enough to eat and paying her rent he warns her that she will have to pay for it.  Ariane naively thinks he is referring to money and says she is already paying.


When her old troupe mate Pierre runs into her he finds out she is a stripper and thinks the fact gives him carte blanche to treat her like a whore.  Her growing doubts are amplified as Pierre’s barb, “It’s not the degree, it’s the principle” strikes home.  It builds up to a moment on stage where she decides modesty be damned and shows the crowd her goods.  This turning point enlivens the crowd of regulars as they had become bored by her routine.  Paul is shocked by her sudden change in behavior and begins to try to counsel Ariane finally deciding another routine is in order that the marionette had run its course.  

All the while a wealthy, jet-setting, globetrotting suitor named Jean-Loup (Jean Sobieski, father of Leelee), always the child of leisure, he is the great grandson of monied tycoons.  He tries to get Ariane’s attention by showering her with flowers; not only is she unimpressed she becomes annoyed wondering if he thinks she is some sort of war memorial.  He finally finds a chink in her armor and is able to convince her into a dinner date.  He makes the mistake of trying to buy her with extravagant gifts, which would have worked on a girl like Dodo but not on Ariane.   We find that Jean-Loup has blown through all of the money his mother left him and now he has to straighten up and abandon the Paris nightlife or accept a small pension.  He ends up proposing to her in front of all of the family during a meeting.  To get back at them he throws down several photos of Ariane performing so they know who he plans to marry though she did not accept when he asked and is obviously hurt by the callous gesture.  She has been used as simple tool to gain leverage over his family.  He will agree to cancel the marriage only if the funds continue to flow.


Teary-eyed Ariane finds comfort and solace in the acceptance of the family matriarch, Aunt Olga, who shames the other women for being judgmental and calls her nephew out as the shallow egoist he really is.  To him she was merely a gilded whore whom he thought had no trouble accepting his money and gifts though she obviously did refusing them time and again.  No man in the family is worth shedding a tear over and she advises Ariane to sever ties with her nephew, not for his sake but for her own.  In an amazingly scripted scene, Ariane asserts her dignity and repudiates everything she has become in a final performance where she removes all the gifts she has been given and returns them to Jean-Loup humiliating him in front of a crowd of Paris’ elite.  She leaves the stage to raucous applause having only stripped off the trappings that had turned her into Jean-Loup’s gilded lily. 


The following morning Sam escorts Ariane along the Seine and after he returns her abandoned ballet slippers she goes back into the daylight only possessing those items she cast away when she left the day for the night.  The movie is much more sophisticated than it first appears, it is firmly rooted in the French New Wave. An underlying theme from the opening song is what makes girls dance the striptease?  Are they born that way?  Ariane is a tragic figure. She is sad, out of work, orphaned by the war and struggling to make it in swinging sixties Paris.  Ariane becomes more and more disassociated from her life.  As a ballet dancer she expressed some modicum of control and as an exotic dancer she is carried on the whims of Parisian nightlife doing what is needed to survive.  The condemnation of the objectification of these women can be no stronger than the stage name of the woman who introduced Ariane to the lifestyle-Dodo Voluptuous.  Dodo has several meanings: an extinct flightless bird, one behind the times or a stupid person.  None of these are complimentary in the least.  And voluptuous of course means voluptuous.  In the end Ariane has passed through that circle of Paris nightlife with Sam as her Virgil and life once again holds promise for the young woman.


STRIP-TEASE is beautifully restored and was wonderfully shot in black and white.  It sports an excellent jazz soundtrack.  If you are a fan of the genre check out Big Joe Turner’s piano duet with composer Serge Gainsbourg.  You’ll find it near the end of the flick, its very brief but great stuff nonetheless. 

The details of the Mondo Macabro DVD are as follows:

B&W 1.66:1 widescreen
French w/English Subtitles
Special features
·      Essay about the film by Pete Tombs
·      Cast and Crew Profiles
·      Interview: Richard Witts on Nico
·      Interview: Lütz Ulbrich on Nico
·      Mondo Macabro preview reel loaded with clips from 33 MM DVDs.

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