By Carter B. Horsley
won 8 Oscars in 1973 including the awards for best director, best
actress and best supporting actor while The Godfather only won 3
including best picture.
It is about a performer at the Kit Kat Club around 1931 in Berlin,
which was then noted for decadence and Expressionism. The
performer was Sally Bowles who was featured in Chrisopher Isherwood's
"Berlin Stories" that was adapted for the 1955 movie, "I Am A Camera"
and the 1966 Broadway musical, "Cabaret," which starred Jill Haworth
and Joel Grey.
In this movie version several songs from the Broadway production were
dropped and a couple added and Mr. Grey was retained for his role as
the Master of Ceremonies at the nightclub. Haworth's role was
given to Liza Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland and movie director
The only 38 of the movie's 111 minutes are musical but they are tremendously wonderful and superb.
Liza and her angels in heaven
The movie zeitgeist is tawdry and a forerunner of New York's Studio 54
loud decadence, but swarmy club-owner Steve Rubell cannot hold a candle
to the incandescent Joel Grey who outshines the pathos of Minnelli, who
Grey is fireworks incarnate.
Minnelli is the
perfect pixie and gamen who outsings her legendary mother.
In his January 1, 1972
review, Roger Ebert provides the following commentary:
is no ordinary musical. Part of its success comes
because it doesn't fall for the old cliché that musicals have to make
happy. Instead of cheapening the movie version by lightening its load
despair, director Bob Fosse has gone right to the bleak heart of the
and stayed there well enough to win an Academy Award for Best Director....
is brought magnificently to the screen in an
Oscar-winning performance by Liza Minnelli, who plays her as a girl
bought what the cabaret is selling. To her, the point is to laugh and
live forever in the moment; to refuse to take things seriously - even
- and to relate with people only up to a certain point. She is capable
warmth and emotion, but a lot of it is theatrical, and when the chips
she's as decadent as the 'divinely decadent' dark fingernail polish she
Minnelli...demonstrates unmistakably that she's one of the great
performers of our time....
gets involved in a triangular relationship with a
young English language teacher (Michael York) and a young baron (Helmut
and if this particular triangle didn't exist in the stage version, that
matter. It helps define the movie's whole feel of moral anarchy, and it
underlined by the sheer desperation in the cabaret itself....
"...The context of Germany
eve of the Nazi ascent to power makes the entire musical into an
cry of despair."
In his excellent review
at the American Film Instiute Filmsite.com, Tim Dirks provides the
(1972) is director/choreographer Bob Fosse's
defining, decadent, award-winning musical which popularized the phrase:
'Life is a Cabaret.' It was only Fosse's second film, but won
numerous accolades (and was a financial and artistic hit), and has been
in retrospect as the only truly great musical of the 1970s.
boundary-pushing film, with themes of corruption, sexual
ambiguity and false dreams, was adapted from the grim 1966 Tony-winning
Broadway stage production, which was in turn inspired by gay author
Isherwood's 1945 Berlin Stories
(including 1939's short story Goodbye
Berlin) and John Van Druten's 1951 play and movie I Am a Camera (1955, UK).
(The 1955 film starred Julie Harris, Laurence Harvey and Shelley
"...Fosse's film was an update
of the Kurt Weill-Brecht world of The Threepenny Opera, Josef von
The Blue Angel (1930), and Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1970, It.)...The
sexually-charged, semi-controversial, kinky musical was
the first one ever to be given an X rating (although later re-rated)
numerous sexual flings and hedonistic club life. There was considerable
innuendo, profanity, casual sex talk (homosexual and heterosexual),
evidence of anti-Semitism, and even an abortion in the film....
superb songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb
contributed a string of 12 memorable songs or tunes (comprising about
of the two-hour running film time) - all effusive,
Cabaret placed # 5 on AFI's
Greatest Movie Musicals list, and the title song "Cabaret" was # 18
on AFI's 100 Top Movie Songs of All Time.
most Oscars of any film that also did not win Best Picture. Gravity
holds second place with seven Oscar wins, while A Place in the Sun
(1951) and Star Wars
(1977) hold third place with six Oscar wins while failing to win Best
1973, Fosse not only won the Best Director Oscar for
Cabaret but also a Primetime Emmy (Outstanding Directorial Achievement)
Minnelli's TV special "Liza with a Z" and a Tony (Best Direction of a
Musical) for the original Broadway production of Pippin. He became the
person to have won all three Best Director awards in a single year.
interpreted Liza Minnelli's win as 'compensation' for the many Oscar
that her mother, Judy Garland, experienced. With her win, she became
and only person to win an Oscar whose parents (Judy Garland, a Juvenile
winner, and Vincente Minnelli) had both won Academy Awards."
his February 14, 1972 review at The
New York Times, Roger Greenspan provides the following
makes mistakes, partly because his camera is a more
potent instrument than he realizes, but he also makes discoveries — and
“Cabaret” is one of those immensely gratifying imperfect works in which
beginning to end you can literally feel a movie coming to life.
in “Cabaret” is very fine, and meticulously chosen
for type, down to the last weary transvestite and to the least of the
Nazis in the background. As for Miss Minnelli, she is sometimes wrong
in the details
of her role, but so magnificently right for the film as a whole that I
prefer not to imagine it without her.
her expressive face and her wonderful (and wonderfully
costumed) body she moves and sings with a strength, warmth,
sensitivity to nuance that virtually transfixes the screen."
Minnelli and Grey give magnificent and very memorable performances while York, Griem and Berenson are attractive.
Not to be overlooked are the wonderfully sleasey chorus girls and the female band.
his January 25. 2013 review at Blu-ray.com, Michael Reuben provides the
following commentary: "No
one in Cabaret bursts into
song to express themselves.
The five songs from the stage show that served such a function (the
'book' songs) were dropped. With one exception, the only songs that
were retained were those sung by performers from the stage of the Kit
the seedy Berlin
dive where one of the main characters, Sally Bowles, earned her meager
living....Fosse and his editor, David Bretherton (another of the film's Oscar
used abrupt transitions, unexpected rhythms and jarring, rapid-fire
keep the audience off balance.
every level, Cabaret is a
technical marvel, but Fosse's
perfectionism wasn't a matter of craftsmanship for its own sake. At the
end of Casablanca, Humphrey
Bogart's Rick famously tells Ilse that their problems don't amount to
hill of beans' in light of the Nazi threat. Cabaret's characters can't see
(or don't want to) beyond their hill of beans, even as that very threat
ominously around them. Fosse draws you deeply into the world of those
characters, but then he keeps breaking away to remind you of what
ignoring. Ultimately, Cabaret's
aim is to give the viewer an experience that
answers the question that still puzzles so many: How could an entire
have remained complacent while such dangerous people took over?
main threads wind through Cabaret,
looping over each other. The first is the friendship, and then love
between Sally Bowles..., the would-be actress with the
personality that disguises a perpetually broken heart, and Brian
(Michael York), the repressed Englishman who arrives in 1931 Berlin to
continue his studies and support
himself by teaching English to Germans. Inquiring about a vacancy in
boarding house where Sally lives, Brian is greeted by Sally at the door
instantly swept into her world of 'divine decadence,' as she beckons
him inside with her brightly metallic green fingernails. Their
by turns comical, touching and tragic, because the more they get to
other, the more obvious it becomes that they are impossible as a couple.
second thread is Germany's descent into fascism.
Cabaret is set just two
years before the Nazis gained control of the German
government, and their presence is inescapable throughout the film. Near
beginning, a Nazi supporter comes into the Kit Kat Klub, where Sally
solicit donations and is immediately ushered out by the manager.
after, we see the manager being beaten in an alley by Nazi
the end of the film, the club's audience is filled with patrons wearing
swastika armbands. In between, numerous scenes (and parts of scenes)
the gathering storm, even as Brian and Sally remain absorbed in their
especially chilling example occurs when Brian returns to
the boarding house one day to find his sweet, friendly neighbors
together in the front room trading stories from the official Nazi press
the international conspiracy of Jewish bankers and communists. Later,
Brian's pupils, Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson), is subjected to a
attack, because she is a member of a wealthy Jewish family. A subplot
Natalia and a fortune hunter named Fritz (Fritz Wepper), who woos her
money, then discovers to his amazement that he's fallen in love with
'mark,' takes a dark turn, as Natalia's race becomes a matter of
controversy. Among people with money and influence, nonchalance rules
We will take care of the Nazis, says Maximilian (Helmut Griem), the
baron who briefly" adopts Bowles and Roberts.
third and final thread is the Kit Kat Klub itself, the
'cabaret' of the title, where Sally works while she deludes herself
that she has a future as an actress. A surreal and seedy locale, the
presided over by a mysterious figure known only as the Master of
M.C. (Joel Grey), who welcomes us to the film with his famous greeting
("Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!") and bids us farewell at the end....
your troubles outside!' says the M.C.
'In here, life is beautiful!' At one level, the M.C. represents the
wilful narcosis that blinded so many of the people of Germany (and
the world) to the Nazi threat. But at the same time, he presides over
numbers that literally fling the problem in the audience's face, while
over their complacency (the most obvious example being 'If You Could
Her'). Even when the club numbers seem to be commenting primarily on
and Sally (as in 'Money' or 'Two Ladies'), the M.C.'s
sardonic delivery always hints at some larger game being played....
Isherwood, on whose stories Cabaret
complained that Liza Minnelli was too talented to play Sally Bowles,
Isherwood's original conception, was supposed to be a third-rate
hopeless aspirations. Isherwood had a point, but Fosse understood how
Minnelli's talent as a musical performer to create a different version
Bowles, one who only exists as a creation on a stage and, once the
down, lapses back into an emotionally wounded creature so desperate
lives her life as if playing a part. Between drinking, serial affairs
and the endless
lies Sally tells herself, there's barely anyone there, which is what
relationship with Brian. Minnelli finds layer after layer of humor and
in this impossible creature and even makes her strangely appealing as
dances on the edge of a volcano that is gathering itself for an
eruption. The famous title song of Cabaret
is often treated as an anthem to
living for the moment and enjoying what's in front of you, and
Sally, gives it her all. Watch it in context, and pay attention to how
follows it up, and you'll never be able to listen to it the same way