AFI #63: Cabaret

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.

One thought on “AFI #63: Cabaret

  1. I have to admit that I’ve never seen Cabaret. I guess I figured I pretty much knew the story from the pictures of Minnelli and Grey…and from your report, perhaps I was right. However i do love movies of the late 60s and 70s because i think film was emerging into an art in its own right and the acting was finally blossoming into a less stagey look and feel with the method actors and naturalistic style.

    In particular, sound track music finally came into its own in a completely new way with The Graduate, Goodbye Columbus, M*A*S*H and most of all, American Graffiti. So have a care there Mr Len and tread cautiously with one of the all-time great comedy/musical score films. Now if we could only get “Happy Days” out of our heads…

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