63 – Cabaret (1972)

Sally: Does it really matter so long as you’re having fun?

 

Seen before?

R: No.

F: No me neither.

 

Thoughts?

R: I enjoyed this, but I do think it is the kind of film that gives musicals a bad name. I liked it in spite of the songs, not because of them. Too often the tunes slow everything down, getting in the way of the story instead of enhancing it. 

F: Oh I disagree entirely. For me the musical numbers are the highlight of the film. I really looked forward to them. That’s probably because the Master of Ceremonies was so great! 

R: I’m with you that the Master of Ceremonies is an interesting character, but the fact he has so much screen time with zero bearing on the plot really hurts the pacing. I also think the songs lack variety. I understand that for authenticity’s sake they’re all in the same period style, but I did start to find them a bit samey. 

F: Again I’m going to have to disagree with you. I loved the songs and don’t you think they become increasingly risqué throughout? Mocking the Nazi’s in 1930s Berlin? 

R: Sure, and I suppose because of that I shouldn’t say they’re entirely superfluous to the plot. But it’s the cumulative repetitive effect I take issue with – it doesn’t always feel like the film is spending its time most efficiently.

F: The plot I could have done without was the guy trying to marry the rich girl. For me that adds very little.

R: I actually like how the sub-plot of the gigolo and the wealthy jewish girl is setup, but you’re right it’s then underdeveloped. There’s maybe an hour in the middle of the film where they just don’t feature, and so when we come back to them towards the end it feels a bit underbaked. Of course, if the film had ditched one of its song and dance routines to let us spend a bit more time with them, it could have been much more effective…

F: I like how the songs seem to comment on the plot, just like I feel the film is commenting on society in Berlin at that time. The change in attitude to sexuality juxtaposed with the rise of the Nazi party makes for a very interesting film for me. 

R: On that at least we can agree.

F: What did you think about Liza Minnelli here? Apart from playing Lucille 2 in Arrested Development I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her in anything else…

R: I totally believed in her performance – although playing an entertainer who likes a drink and a party probably wasn’t too much of a stretch for her! I thought all the acting was pretty solid, although I’m not sure anyone hits the heights of the very best performances we’ve seen on this list.

F: Back to disagreeing with you! I loved Joel Grey in this as the Master of Ceremonies. Exactly the right side of creepy. I’m going to have to make a list of my top 5 performances in the list at the end and I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t feature!

R: I think the cinematography is probably the strongest element of the film, and plays a massive part in helping the Master of Ceremonies so successfully walk that line between fun and creepy. It’s a film about hypocrites and contradictions, and that really comes across in how it’s shot. The scene with Max where the three of them are dancing together, and the scene with the boy from Hitler Youth singing both stood out to me on this first viewing for being really smartly put together.

F: It’s very visual. The costumes and make-up also help with the tone of the film. The scene with the Hitler Youth singing was the most powerful in the film. The way everyone joins in is chilling. 

R: I think I will have overdosed on Nazis by the time we get to the end of this list, but their rise in the background here certainly gives the film a heft it might not otherwise have. And I like that the film is fairly ambiguous on whether Sally’s laisez faire attitude or Brian’s more active political engagement was the right approach – ultimately neither tactic does them much good.

F: It feels like we’re dropping in on these characters at a certain point in their lives. I wonder what happened to them next? 

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: It’s perfectly fine but for me doesn’t quite make the grade.

F: Yes a really interesting film, great songs and stand out performances.

 

Up next:
62 – American Graffiti (1973)
Previously:
64 – Network (1976)
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5 thoughts on “63 – Cabaret (1972)

  1. I loved Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies as well – the highlight of the film and the first time I watched it, I just kept on waiting for him to come back!
    I agree that there was a divide between the musical numbers and the main narrative; personally I thought that the musical parts were the highlights while the rest of it didn’t really go anywhere.
    I thought “keep Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and the musical numbers. Lose everything else!” ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that you’re polar responses to the film make it a very interesting review to read as it highlights the subjective nature of film critique/analysis.

    At the time of release this film, I understand, was meant to be a reaction by Bob Fosse to the Hollywood box-office failure of Sweet Charity (1969). Thus, Cabaret was lower-budgeted, more experimental and raw and edgy and freewheeling from a narrative perspective. I think as a slice-of-life of Pre-war Berlin it works very powerfully and the songs add real texture, dramatic historical irony and character.

    At time of release it was seen as a tour-de-force and stands the test of time somewhat, especially in Liza Minnelli’s great performance. In some ways the story reflected that of Holly Golightly/Breakfast at Tiffanys; albeit more raunchy and political.

    Like

    1. F: Hadn’t thought about the Breakfast At Tiffany’s comparison but that is interesting!
      I understand that the film is quite different in places to the stage musical? It really works for me though but I can see how Rob finds the movement between the story and the musical numbers a bit jarring. But I guess it would be boring if we agreed on everything! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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