I get it. Cabaret is a metaphor for the decadence that leads to the rise in nationalism that makes it possible for the Nazi Party to rise to power in Germany. Sounds like a good plot for a musical (insert sarcasm here).
I’d like to dismiss this film because I’m not a big musical guy, but the truth is I don’t mind a good musical. I love the film version of The Music Man. I loved Evita with Antonio Banderas and Madonna. A Chorus Line with Michael Douglas is one of my favorites. Hey, I even like Sound of Music which also includes Nazis so that’s not a good enough reason for me to have not liked Cabaret. I just found Cabaret to be too wannabe 60s, theater of the absurd, experimental trash. Not my cup of tea. That being said, it was a huge hit in 1972 and won eight damn Academy Awards so what do I know.
Cabaret is the story of cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and takes place in Berlin circa 1931 just as the Nazi party is coming to power. Sally is an over the top dreamer trying to make it big with thoughts of becoming a world-famous actress, but she’s really just using her body to make a living. She meets an English expatriate (Michael York) who turns out to be bisexual and both he and Sally fall for the same German baron. Meanwhile, the Nazis are gaining power and the mood of the city is “narrated” by the master of ceremonies of the cabaret, a creepy and pansexual dude played by Joel Grey. The musical numbers are raunchy and loosely tell the tale. The musical version of the show won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1967.
Again, not my kind of musical and it was filmed during a film era that I don’t typically enjoy (there was something about the late 60s and early 70s that didn’t do it for me). Oscar disagreed with me and awards were handed out for Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), Best Music and Best Director (Bob Fosse). It did not win Best Picture…thank god. That rightfully went to The Godfather, but what it does mean is that Francis Ford Coppola not win Best Director for what was in my opinion one of the greatest films ever made. Joel Grey also stole the Oscar from the likes of Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan (who perhaps split votes leading to Grey’s win). Minnelli actually beat Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues which is also quite a crime.
Life may indeed be a cabaret old chum, but I hope my cabaret is a little more fun with fewer Nazis.
Next up: American Graffiti.
A couple of year’s ago I stopped watching television news because it had become a cesspool of crime and horror. My New Year’s resolution last year was to stop paying attention to politics because it was bringing too much negativity into my life. Yesterday a friend of mine reported that he too has limited his intake of “news” because it was far too negative. Television in general has become a wasteland of “reality” that is anything but real. These days save for a couple of solid cable shows and a whole lot of sports I use TV purely as background noise…I doubt I’ll ever be one of those people who claims to not have a television or says they don’t watch it, but I get it. Soothsayers have been saying since its inception that TV was a beast that would eventually control us, and while that seems farfetched it’s hard to argue that we haven’t become a society of slaves to the tube. Some people argue that TV is simply a reflection of society. If that’s true, god help us! Network was released in 1976 and it caused quite a stir. It’s dark humor explored what would happen if the accountants took over the news department and TV news became beholden to ratings and profitability and was run by corporations. Yep, it came out nearly 40 year’s ago even back then the disease of corporate control was under scrutiny. There’s nothing new under the sun.
The film is most famous for the iconic character of network news anchor Howard Beale, who because his ratings were slipping had a breakdown on live television and because his meltdown was good for business he was given the green light to continue to proselytize about the demise of society and the devil inside the box known as TV. His famous line “I’m mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore” became a national catch phrase and Peter Finch’s portrayal of Beale won him an Oscar for best actor (albiet posthumously). I’m not going to share that famous scene, but rather I’d like you to take a few minutes to watch this scene that I think sums up the spirit of Network‘s message:
I don’t think I’ll say much about the film itself other than to say it was ahead of its time and its message was eerily prophetic. But I would like to comment on where we have found ourselves in 2012 in terms of the sort of television this film considered satirical. Have you spent much time flipping through the proverbial dial on your cable box these days. Most of us are guilty of watching some of this so-called programming (I have my guilty pleasures). What the hell are we watching? Hoarders Buried Alive. To Catch a Predator. Celebrity Rehab. Hillbilly Hand Fishing. Strange Sex. Cops. Toddlers and Tiaras. Bad Girls Club. Kourtney and Kim Take New York. I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.
These are real shows…not satire. Network was supposed to be satire. Showing the assassination of a newscaster on live television was a joke. The “Mao Tse Tung Hour” in which a left wing terrorist group filmed themselves committing crimes was a crazy idea. But honestly, how close have we come? Would anyone be surprised if the next big reality hit was a live broadcast of an execution?
What I’ll say about Network is that it was a film that made you think about the state of the media and society in general. Not too shabby for 1976. I also think a great sequel to the film (or a perfect complement for a radical double feature) would be Natural Born Killers! That’s one of my favorite films and it too takes the reality TV concept to its potential horrific end game.
Next Up: Cabaret