CABARET - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1972

Director: Bob Fosse

Production: Allied Artists Pictures, ABC Pictures; Technicolour; 35mm; running time: 123 minutes. Filmed on location in West Berlin and at Bavaria Atelier Gesellschaft, Munchen, West Germany.

Producer: Cy Feuer; screenplay: Jay Allen, based on the musical play by Joe Mastertoff, from the play by John van Druten, based on the original book by Christopher Isherwood; photography: Geoffrey Unsworth; editor: David Bretherton; choreography: Bob Fosse; assistant directors: Douglas Green, Wolfgang Glattes; production design: Rolf Zehetbauer; art direction: Hans-Jurgen Kiebach; music: John Kander; lyrics: Fred Ebb; music supervisor: Ralph Burns; sound: Robert Knudson, David Hildyard; costumes: Charlotte Fleming.

Cast: Liza Minnelli ( Sally Bowles ); Michael York ( Brian Roberts ); Joel Grey ( Master of Ceremonies ); Helmut Griem ( Maximillian von Heune ); Fritz Wepper ( Fritz Wendel ); Marisa Berenson ( Natalia Landauer ); Elizabeth Neumann-Viertel ( Fraulein Schneider ); Helen Vita ( Fraulein Kost ); Sigrid von Richtofen ( Fraulein Mayr ).

Awards: Oscars for Best Director, Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Grey), Best Cinematography, Best Song Score, Best Editing, Best Art/Set Decoration, and Best Sound, 1972.



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Based on the Berlin short stories by Christopher Isherwood, the play I Am a Camera , and the Broadway production of the same name, Cabaret was shot in West Germany in the early 1970s. Centered primarily around the seedy Kit Kat Klub, the film ruthlessly depicts Berlin in the last days of the decadent Weimar Republic, and the terrifying rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany.

Fosse cleverly interweaves the action taking place on the stage of the club with the political and social action occurring in the streets. The musical numbers performed for the most part impeccably by Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, and her entourage, a group of sleazy female musicians and dancers, mirror real life, and are directed beautifully by the manipulative Master of Ceremonies (brilliantly performed by Joel Grey).

Brian Roberts (Michael York), an aspiring author and repressed homosexual, comes to Berlin to write and to teach English. He finds himself living in the bohemian boarding house inhabited by Bowles, and is introduced to the sexually liberating atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub. While the Master of Ceremonies reflects that: ". . . life is disappointing? Forget it! In here [the club] life is beautiful," the seediness and obvious vulgarity of the audience and performers reinforce that this is far from the truth. In another scene, a Nazi officer is booted out of the club by the manager; later we see the same man being brutally beaten by a group of young Nazi thugs.

Although Brian makes it clear to Sally that he is not at all interested in women sexually, the pair embark on an affair. The couple find their seemingly unreal existence complicated by the rich, mercurial Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) who tantalizes and tempts both of them. Sally is seduced by champagne,

wonderful clothes, and the opulence and decadence of the baron's life—Brian, who is at first sceptical, and also a little jealous of the baron's uninhibited behaviour, is literally seduced by the man, who disappears as quickly as he enters their life. Sally discovers she is pregnant and briefly deludes herself that she and Brian have a future together. Finally she realizes that what they have experienced is completely removed from her reality, and she has an abortion. Brian leaves Germany, and Sally continues her life as a cabaret singer in Berlin.

Against this storyline, two of Brian's language students fall in love. Feckless Fritz (Fritz Wepper), a fortune hunter, seizes his chance when he meets beautiful and rich Jewish heiress, Natalia (Marisa Berenson), only to fall genuinely in love with her. Natalia believes Fritz is a Christian and recognizing the political instability of Germany, and the brutality of the Nazis she refuses to have anything to do with him. Only when Fritz confesses that he is a Jew pretending to be a Christian, does Natalia agree to marry him.

The changing political atmosphere and growth of anti-semitism in Germany is illustrated by the victimization of Natalia in her family home by a group of young boys, who eventually slaughter her dog and leave it on her doorstep. Brian also witnesses the frightening strength of the Fascists when he visits a beer garden with the baron. Arriving in the baron's limousine, the two men leave Sally sleeping in the car. While the two men are drinking, a lone very pure voice begins to sing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," slowly and with great feeling. The camera focuses on the young man's almost perfect Aryan features, tracking the increasing fervour with which he sings. Gradually, other members of the beer garden begin to stand up and join in, the camera closing in on the glazed expressions on their faces. Finally, when almost everyone is on their feet, the camera pans down and reveals the Nazi armband of the young man who instigated the singing. This technique was used in Nazi propaganda films. Brian and the baron leave to the sound of the group's harmony, climbing into their luxurious car and driving away—indicating that because the baron is rich and Sally and Brian are foreigners they will always have the option to leave this horrendous reality behind.

Cabaret is an incredibly innovative film. Now regarded as a classic, the film's use of colour, the garishness of the costumes, the smokiness of the club, the brightness and exaggeration of the makeup emphasize the decadence of the time. The musical score and choreography are well crafted and performed, and are deliberately kept to the stage of the Kit Kat Klub ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is the only exception to this). Minnelli performs her songs emotively and convincingly, if anything she is too good for the small, decadent atmosphere of the Klub.

On its release in 1972, Cabaret was received to great acclaim— winning eight Academy Awards, and three Golden Globe Awards.

—A. Pillai

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