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Ring a Ding Ding

Cabaret (1972)

     I was a bit blown away by Cabaret as I engaged in my first viewing last night. I had avoided the musical despite is obviously jazzy style and music because of a … we’ll call it fear of Liza Minnelli. I will attempt not to delve too deeply into my opinions of her as the film itself warrants much discussion, but being this was my first Minnelli exposure (outside Arrested Development) I was highly distracted by the woman herself.

     Given that Minnelli in her more recent years has become a seeming lunatic and butt of jokes, I had no particular desire to see any of her films. However, any young person could say the same about Elizabeth Taylor and be forever ignorant of the monstrous career she had in her younger days. I find it difficult not to instantly draw comparisons against Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland. Their voices are similar and Liza occasionally affects an expression similar to her mother, but I dare call the daughter a mutant version of Garland. Minnelli’s singing voice is decidedly different from Judy’s in most ways, thankfully. Although I would call Minnelli’s character in Cabaret fairly obnoxious, her performance grows wonderfully as the film progresses.

     Cabaret takes us to 1930s Berlin where American Sally Bowles is working as a headliner act in a small club where she sings and dances. The film commences with Michael York as Brian Roberts meeting Sally when acquiring a room at her boarding house. The two become fast friends, but when Sally –who has already professed a love for sex– puts the moves on Brian, we learn he thinks he is gay. Fast forward a few scenes and Sally manages this time to stir sexual desire in her companion and the two become lovers. Sally, who longs to become an actress, has a penchant for flirting/sleeping with any man who might be a producer or otherwise affiliated with the German film company Ufa. Although this makes Brian mildly jealous, it is not until wealthy Maximilian Von Huene (Helmut Griem) begins courting Sally –with Brian always in tow– that we see the sting of cuckoldom. When Max finally abandons the duo after showering both with gifts, we learn that indeed both Brian and Sally had been sleeping with him. In the midst of all that, a penniless friend, Fritz (Fritz Wepper), falls in love with a wealthy young woman, Natalia (Marisa Berenson) and struggles to convince her to marry him.

     In the backdrop of life’s adventures for this group is the rise of the Nazi party. Although we are entreated to the occasional glimpse of their presence, the upcoming trouble is not mentioned until Natalia says she cannot marry Fritz because she is Jewish. The subject matter increases from that point on with a musical display in a country town and finally a most unsettling and impactful close to the film.

     I have always generally lumped all musicals into the category of comedy. Even those with particularly dramatic storylines usually have a large amount of laughs. Cabaret broke the mold in that regard (Although now that I think about it, Cabaret could be better described as a music movie, because it contains no spontaneous breaking into song. All numbers are performed on the stage within the confines of the plot). Some very unique editing works to juxtapose scenes of gaiety, usually musical numbers, against Nazi brutality. The song selections arranged against the goings on in Sally’s life also manage to convey greater meaning, such as the protagonist singing about finding a man who might stay after first sleeping with Brian, or vocalizing about money upon meeting max, or a number about threesomes. The editing, which won one of the eight Oscars for the picture, is truly genius. The film contains nothing but plain, sharp cuts between scenes. Whereas standard filmmaking uses fades between scenes to show the passage of time or wipes to show a change in scenery, Cabaret moves quickly from one place and time to another and even inserts unrelated images to covey a greater meaning –giving me chills at times. The editing reverts to the neanderthal techniques of early silent films, which is a rather brave endeavor.

     Although I would still not declare myself a Liza fan, I can understand why she won the Best Actress award. The movie also took home statuettes for set decoration, cinematography,  score, sound, and Director Bob Fosse, and Supporting Actor Joel Grey (the master of ceremonies at the club). Cabaret set a record of receiving the most Academy Award wins without claiming Best Picture, which went to The Godfather.

Source: Robert Osborne


3 Responses

  1. Good observations. Give her a try in “Arthur.”

    Cabaret also has an historical context beyond the rise of the Nazis. Berlin was notorious for its immorality and wild behaviours at this time in history. It was known as the most open city in the world.

  2. I was interested to read your review of “Cabaret.” I can understand how a younger generation would be put off by Liza, she has become something of a caricature over the years.
    Back in the day (1972) I was in a theater (with friends) where we were to going see “Fritz the Cat,” a subversive animated film that was much about sex, as I recall. But first there were previews.
    Musical films were out of vogue at the time and I had little interest in them…however…the preview for “Cabaret” began and what I remember is getting chills, goosebumps actually, when Liza sang the title song. I turned to the guy I was with and said, “We have to see this.”

  3. I remember seeing Fritz the Cat back in the day and was sitting in front of two old ladies who thought they were about to partake of some Disney-like animated fare.

    They hung in there for about 10 minutes and their reactions were funnier than the feature. Nothing like cartoon kitties getting frisky on the big screen!

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