Saturday, 11 November 2017
So, after a bit of a gap, Dr Carrie Dunn and I continue my education in musicals with the 1972 film of Cabaret. It's directed by Bob Fosse, who won the Best Director Oscar beating Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather. If you'd told me that before I'd seen Cabaret, I'd have been annoyed on Francis Ford Coppola's behalf. In reality, though Cabaret is as fine a film as The Godfather, just a very different one and Fosse does a fantastic job of balancing all the various elements so that Cabaret turns out to be a brilliant film.
Cabaret has its direct roots in the Kander and Ebb Broadway musical, which debuted in 1966. But that, in turn, was adapted from a 1951 stage play, called I Am a Camera, which in turn produced a film, also called I Am a Camera in 1955. Even that isn't the beginning though. The stage play was adapted from Christopher Isherwood's excellent The Berlin Stories, which are made up of two semi-autobiographical novels Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1939). Unlike the Isherwood stories, Cabaret makes Sally Bowles* (Liza Minelli) the central character, alongside Brian Roberts (Michael York).
There aren't a lot of songs in the film (for a musical) and all but one of those songs take place inside the Kit Kat Klub, where Sally Bowles sings. And almost all those songs are commentaries on what is happening. Indeed the film is less a musical and more a genuine attempt at a political cabaret. The only song that doesn't take place in the club is 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me', which is sung in a beer garden.
The whole 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me' sequence is a magnificent distillation of the appeal of the Nazi's to the German people. Without hammering the point home it illustrates the almost physical need that the Germans have for the 'pride' the Nazis are offering them. The Nazis crop up in the film directly rarely and when they do they're usually accompanied by violence.
Mainly. the film focuses on Sally Bowles and Brian Roberts as they make their way precariously through Berlin life. There is one other sub-plot, which is the romance between Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper) and Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson). Fritz appears to be a gigolo and gold digger but actually falls in love with Natalia, who is the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family. I won't go into too much detail about that as spoilers, but it provides a break from Sally and Brian's experiences.
Liza Minelli is astonishingly good at this. As good as her mother is in A Star is Born, but with perhaps less of the weight of her own troubles hanging from her. She's got an amazing voice and presence, which makes Michael York seem a little lightweight in comparison, but that might also be because York doesn't get songs to sing. He's 'just' acting. He's great but Minelli blows everyone away.
The other two performances worth noting are Joel Grey as The Master of Ceremonies, who functions not just as the Kit Kat Club's Master of Ceremonies but the Master of Ceremonies for the film itself really. Then there is Helmut Griem as Maximillian von Heune. the playboy Baron who picks up both Sally and Brian for a short while has fun with them and then heads off to South America leaving them 300 marks as a thank you. There's a conversation with von Heune in the car that
Brian and Sally's relationship goes through twists and turns, ups and downs, but it is always doomed to end because fundamentally Sally holds on to a dream of success that doesn't match the reality of life as a wife in a little cottage in Cambridge with the bi-sexual Brian. Unusually, even though there's the potential for a dark and bitter ending it doesn't really finish like that. In the end, it is two people who would never have met in any other circumstances falling in love but realising like grown-ups that the love itself is not enough.
The film itself though ends more ominously. The Nazis in the audience sit in silence and we say goodbye. The Kit Kat Club and its performers won't be likely to meet the approval of the Nazis. The film is less obvious about this than the stage play from what I've read, which is more explicit than implicit.
So, I thought this was marvellous and that Liza Minelli is just astonishing. Here's a wee clip for you to judge yourselves. It's Minelli singing Mein Herr
And on that note.
*In the books Sally Bowles is British, not American.