Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review of Cabaret

Next on the list of AFI's movies is Cabaret, #63. It is a loose adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, set in the last days of the Weimar Republic in Germany. Liza Minnelli is Sally Bowles, a performer at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, who gets entangled in a confused relationship with a visiting English teacher, Brian Roberts (Michael York). The two try to live their decadent lives under the growing shadow cast by the Nazis.

This movie, despite what you may think of it, has actually aged well. Unlike many movies made in the 70's on this list, historical pics included, there are no distracting hallmarks that date it: mainly, the weird hairstyles and sappy/raunchy 70's music. Regardless of the dating and lack thereof, I quite enjoyed it. It has a style all its own. It is a musical where the characters do not spontaneously burst into song. When a character's inner emotions need to be expressed, the scene usually cuts to a relevant musical number at the Kit Kat Klub.

One of the things I like best about this movie is the character of Brian. While Sally Bowles is a familiar character, the artsy, flakey, over-emotional performer who wants to be a real actress, Brian's reactions to her are original. Sally abuses their relationship in the way we would expect, but instead of being driven to violence, the standard Hollywood response, Brian responds with either understanding or his own abuses. He is never a victim and that's refreshing. I won't go into many details for fear of spoilers. Well okay, ***here's a vague SPOILER***: it's very rare that all points of fictional love triangles connect. ***end spoiler alert***

Cabaret contains a scene that is famous in movie history, the powerful "Tommorow Belongs to Me" scene, and I don't feel bad about describing it because it appears in many books on cinema and film school classes. Brian and Maximilian are chatting at an outdoor cafe when a young man stands and begins singing in a beautiful tenor. The cafe-goers are enchanted by the loveliness and earnestness of the song, and perhaps so is the film's viewer. That is until the camera pans downward and we see the young man is dressed in a Nazi uniform. As the cafe's attendees rise in rousing song and Brian and Max skedaddle, I felt the hairs on my back prickling in terror. This scene perfectly encapsulates the madness that led the Nazis to power and the world to war in 1939.

As a side note, this scene once again just goes to show that interpretation of art is all in the eyes of the audience. While the reaction I experienced to this scene was the one, I believe, that the filmmakers intended, it is not so with all audiences. "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" has been embraced as an anthem by White Pride groups. Some people, I tell you.

Cabaret is complicated and heartbreaking (for a musical). Once again, not for all tastes, but it certainly was for mine.
Beedle-dee dee dee dee! 4 1/2 Ladies out of 5, and I'm the only man