Cabaret

A Guest Review by Martin Duffy.

My connection to the film Cabaret is long and complex. I first saw the film in my native Dublin when dating the woman who would become my first wife and the mother of our two wonderful sons. I had never seen anything like this film before. I loved its exotic, seedy world. I remember buying a cassette (remember those?) of the film’s soundtrack and listening to it over and over again. That was many years ago. Long before Berlin became my home.

Way back when I was trying to keep my eyes and hands off Marian as we sat in the Savoy Cinema in Dublin I could not have known that one day I would live a ten minute walk away from where the author of the story, Englishman Christopher Isherwood, lived in the seductive Berlin of Weimar Germany in the 1930s. Or that one day I would pick up – and be able to read – a German language copy of his Berlin diaries book at a local flea market.

The film Cabaret, made in 1972, is drawn from Christopher Isherwood’s two books about his time in Berlin and his nights at the Kit-Kat Club. The film was a phenomenal success when released. It was nominated for ten Oscars and won eight of them: setting the strange record of being the film with the most craft and subsidiary prizes (best director, best editing, art direction etc) without winning Best Film: that prize going to The Godfather.

From start to finish the film oozes a dark, sleazy sensuousness. The ladies on stage are voluptuous and crude. Joey Grey (who won an Oscar for his role) is the nightclub’s lascivious MC and Michael York is the British ‘innocent abroad’ who leads the audience through the narrative. Liza Minnelli (Oscar for Best Actress, daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli) is the fabulous Sally Bowles. Oscar-winning director Bob Fosse, known mainly for his talent as a choreographer, was not the studio’s choice and had just made the film ‘Sweet Charity’ that had been a flop. But the producers insisted on him and he brought new cinematic vision through his work. The screenplay had evolved through Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin diaries into the fiction I Am a Camera (a film made in the 1950s) and then into a stage musical until finally becoming the film Cabaret. The stage musical was performed last year in Berlin and was a sell-out for the months of its run.

Isherwood was gay and Berlin was a perfect adopted home for him. He was somewhat like the bi-sexual male lead character in the film who falls for Sally Bowles. Isherwood wisely left Berlin in 1933 when the Nazis took over. Not far from where he lived and I now live, at Nollendorfplatz, there is a memorial to the homosexuals killed in the Hitler era. Isherwood moved from Berlin to the USA where he worked as a college professor and could (almost) come out. His novel A Single Man was made as a feature film in 2009 with Colin Firth in the lead role and tells the story of a grieving gay English professor in America in the 1950s.

So what behind-the-scene gossip is there to tell about the film Cabaret? It was shot mostly in Munich although set in Berlin and partly shot here. It was extraordinarily provocative: perhaps the scene far from the nightclub in the beer garden being the most provocative of all when the clean young Nazi sings ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. It is a breath-taking film moment. I love the cuts to the old man who listens wearily: he has heard this all before. As a film editor I simply LOVE the editing of the music performances in the film.

So here it is. Meine Damen und Herren. Ladies should put on stockings and a bowler hat and gents should put on lipstick. Get out the banjo, hit the cymbals. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Cabaret. Divine decadence.

Starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey. Directed by Bob Fosse. Based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood. Music and Lyrics by John Kander, Fred Ebb.

The film is available on DVD.

About the author: Martin Duffy is a storyteller; he works as a film director, writer and editor. He also writes songs and has written several novels for young people and some non-fiction books. For more information please check the links below:

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