Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
A filmmaker like Lubitsch makes you feel privileged for taking part in his naughtiness — like you’re in on the joke. But the naughtiness in this clip, from Renoir’s “French Cancan,” is of a different sort. Renoir normalizes and democratizes the vulgar; he treats it as an aspect of public life, as fundamental and as collectively wished for as a holiday feast or a civic parade. The performance featured in the sequence is all about naughtiness — about its pleasure and contagiousness. And its effect, though explosive, is somehow comforting because it underscores a shared predilection. For what attendee of a good leg-and-panty show doesn’t want to feel that he’s among comrades? Cuing us to the communal thrust of his point, Renoir uses the scene to collapse the distances separating private from public and performer from audience. When an observer objects to his lover’s part in what he deems an obscene spectacle, it’s a benign sort of peer pressure that persuades him to relent — and to allow himself to be entertained. A similar transformation affects Jean Gabin’s impresario character. Gradually ceasing to worry about the execution of his dancers, he gets swept into the flow of the performance. Eventually, he moves out of the backstage area and joins the audience, which has spilled into — almost merged with — the dance that he’s choreographed. I love the bit at around 6:13 where Gabin, clearly a stand-in for Renoir, half-consciously mimics the girls’ leg kicks. It’s one of those things you see in a movie and then never forget.