Saturday, February 13, 2016
Based on the 1966 musical by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb that was based on the novel The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood and its play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten. Cabaret is the story of pre-Nazi Berlin, Germany where a young writer finds himself entranced by the world as he meets and falls for an American cabaret singer. Directed by Bob Fosse and screenplay by Jay Allen, the film is a musical that plays into the lives of an outsider and various others in a world that was to change as they try to hold on to a world of decadence. Starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Greim, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson, and Joel Grey. Cabaret is a spectacular and exhilarating film from Bob Fosse.
Set in 1931 Berlin, the film revolves around a British writer and an American cabaret singer who meet and fall in love during a period in Germany that would mark a major change for the country in the emergence of Nazism. Yet, it’s a film that play into two different people and personalities who meet together as one is this reserved academic that lives in a world of reality while the other is this exuberant woman with big dreams to make it as an actress while being this revered cabaret singer. All of it is told that plays into a world that is quite decadent and sort of escapist where this young man ventures into the world as an outsider where he’s taken aback but also amazed by it. The film’s screenplay by Jay Allen isn’t just about this relationship between Brian Roberts (Michael York) and Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) but also the people around them and what is going on at the Kit Kat Club where Sally performs that features commentary from its Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey).
The film also has a subplot as it relates to a friend of Bowles in Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper) who is a well-known gigolo that goes to Roberts to improve his English as he falls for another of Roberts’ pupil in a rich Jewish woman in Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson). It’s a subplot that doesn’t just play into Roberts being this observer of watching another man fall in love but also deal with the realities of what is happening as it relates to the emergence of Nazism. The script does have a traditional structure where much of its first act and the first half of the story revolves around the growing relationship between Roberts and Bowles despite their difference with the former also admitting to having feelings for men. By the time the character of baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Greim) comes into the picture, the second act would begin as it plays into this threesome that also involves Roberts and Bowles but also a dark reality that would emerge.
Even in the third act where it plays into this disconnect of sorts of what is happening in Germany and the world that Bowles wants. Even as the events in the Kit Kat Club showcases that disconnect while offering commentary on what is happening outside of the club. The performances that involve the Master of Ceremonies with or without Bowles not only help bring in ideas of what is going on in the narrative but also into a world that is ever-changing where it is this world of escape but also filled with some contradictions. Notably as it relates to what Bowles had to face in her life as it showcases how flawed she is as a person. While Roberts might seem as somewhat stuffy and a bit cynical, he is someone that is willing to be open but also realizes that what is happening in Germany is wrong. For Bowles, she doesn’t think about the bigger picture rather than what she wants to be as it raises that sense of disconnect into reality.
Bob Fosse’s direction is very unique not just for his recreation of 1930s Berlin but also in the fact that nearly half of the film is set inside this club. The scenes set in the club has this air of danger in what could be revealed either literally or metaphorically. Even as many of the musical numbers that are written by John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb has this playful yet decadent feel. Fosse’s presentation of these musical numbers are very intimate but also something that is very lively and unpredictable. With Fosse also serving as the choreographer, the dance numbers and performances have this air of sexuality that is enthralling but also add to what is going on in the story such as Bowles’ meeting with von Heune for a song with the Master of Ceremonies in Money, Money. The songs aren’t just crucial to the narrative but it also expresses everything that Bowles is dealing with as well as what is happening in the story.
Shot on location in Germany with much of it in rural places along with some location shooting in Munich and parts of West Berlin, Fosse would take advantage of the beauty of the locations as well as create something that was once peaceful despite the dark undercurrent of Nazism. The usage of wide and medium shots would play into these moments along with some of the musical numbers. Fosse’s close-ups are also key in some of the musical sequences either for comical or very emotional moments while it is also evident in a key moment where Bowles, Roberts, and von Heune notice the attraction towards each other. It also plays into these moments between Bowles and Roberts in their relationship despite the growing darkness that is emerging as it relates to people they know. Even as it indicates a reality that Bowles would have to face no matter how much she tries to ignore it. Overall, Fosse creates a dazzling and ravishing film about a cabaret singer and an academic falling in love during 1931 Berlin.
Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography with its array of lighting for some of the cabaret numbers as well as the usage of soft lights for some of the daytime interiors while using some low-key lighting for some of the exterior lightings set at night. Editor David Bretherton does amazing work with the editing as it features some unique jump-cuts as well as montages that play into some of the dramatic moments as well as some unique back-and-forth cutting to play into the musical numbers and what is going on outside of the club. Production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and art director Hans Jurgen Kiebach do fantastic work with the look of the Kit Kat Club and its stage as well as the apartment that Bowles and Roberts share that play into their different personalities.
Costume designer Charlotte Flemming does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes that Bowles wears on and off the stage as well as the clothes the men wore in those times as well as those Nazi uniforms. Sound editor James M. Falkinburg does superb work with the sound in the way some of the dancing sounds as well as some of the moments that occur in the streets and small towns. The film’s music by John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, with additional work by Ralph Burns, is incredible not just for the songs that are made but also in the music score that plays into that world of jazz to showcase a world that is changing slowly but also the sense that something dangerous is coming.
The casting by Renate Neuchl is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel as Bowles and Roberts’ landlord Fraulein Schneider and Oliver Colligan as a Nazi youth with Mark Lambert as its singing voice. Marisa Berenson is terrific as Natalia Landauer as a rich socialite who is dealing with Fritz’s feelings for her but also the fact that she’s Jewish and a target for the Nazis. Fritz Wepper is superb as Fritz Wendel as a gigolo who falls for Natalia as he tries to please her while carrying a secret of his own which he believes will destroy him. Helmut Greim is fantastic as the baron Maximilian von Heune as a rich gigolo who woos both Roberts and Bowles as well as be someone that has a lot of power in what to do where it is clear he is just someone that uses people.
Joel Grey is phenomenal as the Master of Ceremonies as he is this vivacious performer that is so full of charm and humor as it is just this performance that really steals the show while looking really good in stockings and garters. Michael York is remarkable as Brian Roberts as a British academic/writer who comes to Berlin to write while falling for Bowles where he deals with his own sexuality as well as what is happening around him where he tries to make a difference. Finally, there’s Liza Minnelli in a spectacular performance as Sally Bowles as this woman who is so full of life and charisma as she is this cabaret performer that is just so engaging while Minnelli also provides some vulnerability and wit to the character offstage that is quite selfish but also troubled as she is someone that doesn’t know if there is a life outside of entertaining and making people smile amidst a world that is changing.
Cabaret is an outstanding film from Bob Fosse that features great performances from Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey. It’s a musical that manages to be very entertaining as well as have an air of danger that makes it so compelling. Especially as it features a strong story, amazing technical work, and exhilarating music that makes the film a total joy. In the end, Cabaret is a sensational film from Bob Fosse.
Bob Fosse Films: Sweet Charity - Liza with a Z - Lenny - All That Jazz - Star 80 - The Auteurs #56: Bob Fosse
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