Cabaret (1972)

Don't worry, she's the worst part of the whole film - oh wait, she's in it all the time.
Don't worry, she's the worst part of the whole film - oh wait, she's in it all the time.

Genre: Music Drama Musical

Starring: Liza Minnelli (Arthur (1981) "Arrested Development"), Michael York (Logan's Run  Romeo and Juliet (1968))

Directed By: Bob Fosse (All That Jazz Lenny)

Overview: During the early days of the rise of the Nazi party in 1932 Berlin, an English teacher rooms next to a zanny cabaret performer with dreams of the good life.

If you're a regular reader of mine, well thank you! Also, you know that Musicals and I, well, we aren't really friends. Yeah, we hang out in the same circles and we say 'Hi' to each other, but you know, when we're in the same room alone together, we don't quite know what to talk about. It's kinda awkward. Luckily for Cabaret, it doesn't quite fit the 'Musical' genre perfectly, making it a little more palpable, but, like the champion Musical The Sound of Music, there's plenty of annoying characters, singing, homo-erotic behaviour, and of course, Nazis galore to get your Musical bone tingling.

Cabaret opens with a stage performance in a place that could be considered kinda classy if squinted at one way, then suddenly 'tawdry dive' if looked at from a slightly different angle. I admit I loved that intro. One shot displays the quality of professionally choreographed, skilled performers, the next reveals a dingy stage including a man in drag as one of the cabaret performers shaking his rump at the audience. Thus, poetically, this opening scene was a prefect representation of my overall opinion of the film: often professional and skilled, sometimes as malodorous as a man shaking his bum in my face.

The story is your basic Bi meets girl. Michael York plays Brian, a regular-old English teacher just moved to Berlin. The girl in the room next door is Sally Bowles, portrayed by Liza Minnelli. Her drunken head-in-the-clouds attitude will land her a job in the movies - or at least that's her dream, that huge eyeballed freak. She makes fast friends with Brian and appoints herself tour guide and nightlife lady, eventually offering him a ride on her welcome wagon. He reveals that he's not really into chicks. She proves to him that he's just been with the wrong chicks. They engage in a nightlife romance until the rich, powerful, bon vivant Maximilian von Heune comes along and starts dating her. She sees her chance at the big time, or at the very least big money and suddenly Bi meets girl turns into a ménage-à-awkward for Brian. Other themes include the rise of the Reich, the cabaret lifestyle, and other human drama stuff - roll credits.

Joel Grey - one of the highlights of Cabaret
Joel Grey - one of the highlights of Cabaret

By far my favourite character was the 'Master of Ceremonies' played by Joel Grey. The fact that his character is only defined by his work on the stage makes him that much better. His pure archetype was one I looked forward to, not to mention his base performance-art antics. In typical 'Musical' expectation, I hate the main character. She's a flighty, prissy, irresponsible, selfish little twit whose filth only serves to make those near her dirty. And no it's not endearing, no it's not 'cute' and why did I know that Liza would be just like that before I hit Play? My early advice to Brian was that he move the Hell out from across the hall and keep away from that horrible child.

But amidst all the detestable characterization scenes was my love of the one that came after. For a guy who hates Musicals, the songs were pretty damn awesome, the cinematography was consistently solid and although I wasn't a fan of the overall plot, it was really well delivered. In short I can reluctantly agree that that this might just be worth seeing before you bite it.

Tthe worst part - SHE'S NEVER SEXY
The worst part - SHE'S NEVER SEXY

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 74% (Stop In, Have A Drink)

I tend to dislike Musicals where people randomly break into song as part of a universal norm, like in The Sound Of Music. In Dancer In The Dark the appropriate musical context comes from the fact that those scenes are all imagined by our heroine. Cabaret's Musical scenes all happen onstage. I think this played a large part in making it more pleasant.

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As a fellow musical hater, I also found this one much more watchable than I would have believed.

Yeah, Liza's pretty hateful in this, but I also found her pitiable, which made this much more interesting.

I feel sad that you don't like musicals, but respect that you're still willing to watch them in the hope of finding something about them you might like.

This is one of my faves. A few points:
- I don't think Liza's character is meant to be terribly likeable. She's somewhat likeable at times, but she's so selfish and self-centred at other times that she's clearly meant to be a mixed bag at best.
- As for the actor, this is one of the best things Liza has ever done. She tends to be an over-the-top actress at the best of times, but she really reined it in here (I felt).
- As for the Dancer in the Dark musical numbers happening in Selma's imagination - I guess that's kind of how I view musical numbers in other musicals too - it's just that Von Trier's effort made it more explicit. I don't think we're meant to think people are breaking into song in real life - it's just a way for the filmmaker to represent a segment of the dialogue/plot. If I took it literally, I suppose I'd dislike musicals as well.

Interesting review.

Thanks so much! We need to catch up!

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