Rates: * * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? Why did I watch this? It has been on my watch list for ages, I cannot remember now why I put it there.
A bookish young Englishman comes to Weimar era Berlin looking for a little continental adventure; but whatever he had in mind is derailed, moment one, as a hurricane known as Sally Bowles enters his life. Sally, a singer at a jinky local Cabaret club, aspires to fame and stardom but, short term, is happy living moment to moment. This mismatched couple share an eventful season, and sometimes a bed, as they party their way through some very long days and nights.
Bob Fosse’s famed adaptation of this classic stage musical is quite brilliant in many respects. Start with his own direction, which avoids a big trap of this genre by not trying to recreate the stage show. In a million inventive ways, he breaks the film out of its theatrical conventions, turning it into something else; lively, exciting, organic. And very cinematic. An example is the way he films the big numbers; up close, the camera often in the midst of the action, and often focussing in on the performer’s faces.
He has also added much more to the back story, which juxtaposes the decadence of the after hours world of the characters, alongside the ultra conservativism that is becoming prevelant in wider society, personified by the Nazi party. There is one striking scene, added for the film, where a member of the Hitler Youth takes over a cafe for a creepy singalong; and another where a couple of brownshirts bash the male lead.
In the midst of this fresh presentation is Liza Minelli, who is absolutely sensational as Sally. This is a performance you often hear discussed, as one of the all time greats, and it is exciting to see that all of that hype is justified. She not only sings and dances at the very peak of what is possible in both of those fields, but her acting has an open and unabashed quality that is irresistable. Her dreams, her candour, her determination to follow her own path; you recognise that this is a person to be reckoned with, even if you can see that she is sloppy and difficult and makes bad decisions. The other characters in the film are drawn to her like a magnet, and you are too.
Which gives the latter part of this movie the required level of emotional devsastation. You really feel the weight of the two main characters being drawn apart; even if you knew that it was never going to work out between them – how could it if they are true to themselves – it still a small, wrenching tragedy. Doubly underlined by the final shot – a distorted reflection of Sally performing in front of an audience dotted with Nazis – that underlines how risky a choice she has made.
But those stark consequences are for some other movie. This is a story about never giving up on your dreams, how this has a value of itself, even if they are very unlikely and the whole system is stacked against you. I mean, perhaps they are doubly important, when faced with those odds.