Friday, October 7, 2011

Ten Statements About....CABARET (1972)

Don't stare directly at him...he could very well be The Devil...
"You ever slept with a dwarf?"
"Once, but it wasn't a lasting relationship."

1) You want proof of how different Hollywood was in the 70's? Here's a woman with pasty skin, a large sloping nose, too-wide eyes and a weird propensity for singing and/or talking literally out of the side of her mouth...and yet, she's not only presented as the sexual center of the film--she's downright sexy.

2) As someone who is familar with both the theatrical version of the musical and the stage play upon which said theatrical version is based, I found it fascinating that the film hews much, much closer to the stage play--whole plot threads that were cut from the musical are restored, and aspect that were glossed over (including Brian's implied bisexuality) are confronted head on.

3) As good as both Liza Minnelli and Michael York's performances are, the most fascinating performance remains Joel Grey's as the Master of Ceremonies. In another context, this character would be a true horror--there are moments you can almost see the MC as something supernatural and sinister (hell, there's a musical number where Grey is in drag where he comes off like Dr. Frank N. Futer's father). Of course....

Trust will believe this awkwardly put together
woman was a sex symbol at one time.
4) An argument can be made that, beyond a certain point, Grey is a figment of Brian and Sally's imagination. Since Fosse has used the musical numbers to comment on the action, about halfway through the film he has the Master of Ceremonies slowly, subliminal intrude on the action, popping up for a second or two in key scenes to leer directly into the camera as if to mock our heroes for allowing themselves to be seduced into a lifestyle they may not want.

5) What impressed me is how Fosse turned what is, at its core, a very static show (when you boil it down to its essence, Cabaret is mainly a movie about people in rooms having tea and pretending to be things they know they aren't) into something cinematic by allowing the camera to move with the characters. Every time a character moves, the camera follows them, giving you the sense of being in the room with them.

6) Elaborating forward, I find it intriguing how Fosse choses which character to follow in the scenes. In some of the more ingenious set-ups, Fossee changes which character he has the camera tracking when the dynamics of the conversation changes. When someone gains an upper hand in an argument, the camera switches its focus to them.

7) The only time the camera isn't moving is when we're confronted by evidence of Nazi violence. Fosse either creates still life tableaus, or utilizes very quick cuts to make us think we're looking at still photos of the violence.

And from another angle, they look like an urn...
8) The only musical number that really feels like a musical number, 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me,' is fascinating in its choreography. The way Fosse doesn't reveal that the soloist is a Nazi until we're sucked into the song, and the way the faces of the people who slowly join in seem to get uglier the moment they decide to add their voices is masterful.

9) The brillance of Minelli's performance as Sally Bowles is how she seems to be the human equivilent of an onion. When she's at her most deceptive, she's weighed down by make-up and artifice, and she struggles with being truthful when she done up to the nines (as witnessed by her attempts to comfort Maria Berenson's Natalie). The more of the artificiality she strips away, the more genuine she becomes, and the more honest she is able to be with those around her.

10) I wonder if Minnelli's last musical number (which I think was one of the number written especially for the film by Kander and Ebb, but I'm not sure) was shoehorned in at the end to lessen the dark and bitter edge of the actual end. If it was, I do think it's one of the film's few failures, as the whole point of the story is to emphasize how the frivolous attitude many people in Weimer Germany allowed Nazism to gain hold; if they had remained with the Master of Ceremonies' closing monologue followed by the pan into the distorted reflection of the audience, now dominated by Nazis, I think the point would have been made more effectively.

Overall...a really good example of the 'new school' of musicals that became prevelant in the late 60's and 70's before the genre went dormant for a while, ably supported by a number of excellent performances.

1 comment:

  1. Good observation about the "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" number. That's my favorite scene in the movie.