Admittedly, I am a newcomer to Cabaret, the acclaimed 1972 musical that won 8 Tony Awards. When you hear accolades like that, your hopes for any musical immediately shoots through the roof.
However, when I first popped this Blu-ray in, I cringed at the loud, cacophony of cabaret tunes. Disjointed jump cuts and perpetual inserts kept me emotionally removed from the plot. Set in 1931 Berlin, Michael York moves up in Germany and finds Liza Minnelli, a cabaret performer with an extra room in her apartment. Thus begins an exploration of Nazism and its effect on the country’s people and their relationships.
It would be an intriguing story to digest in book form, on stage or just without the sporadic cutting for effect. Just like the tumultuous atmosphere in Nazi Germany at the time, the film is meant to keep you off balanced. Perhaps it does too good of a job. Most of the time, I wanted to skip past the cabaret tunes and just watch the film sans music.
It wasn’t until about 30-minutes in that I finally started to enjoy this movie. The developing relationship between Michael and Liza spins off in oddly intriguing direction, as their duo friendship becomes a gold digging trio. Coincidentally, “Money” is the only pure cabaret song that I can honestly say I enjoyed. My other overall favorite was “Maybe This Time,” but that could just be me gravitating towards the typical musical – which this is not.
The multi-layered story is filled with moments of foreshadowing and unique twists that eventually pay off. You will most likely see the twists coming, but they are delayed just long enough to catch you unaware. It’s reminds me of the end of Friday the 13th. You see the boat on the lake. It sits there long enough for you to think something is going to happen. Then, you continue to sit and nothing happens and you expect a happy ending. Finally, some more time passes by and then boom; the twist happens. Cabaret is a lot like that.
Liza self-destructs in a way that doesn’t require a downward depression into drugs and alcohol (she does mention in one scene however, that perhaps one day she will end up “disgracing” herself in a pub) to get the point across, a testament to smart storytelling. She’s starry eyed and confused, chasing a dream that is too far removed. The atmosphere of the cabaret is its own toxin.
I never did feel comfortable with the jump cuts to the cabaret. But such is the nature of this movie. Religion, sexuality, social class and political ideals all play out perfectly to the off-kilter story told by show tunes you heard just a few short scenes prior. The musical even culminates with a song entitled Finale Ultimo (“Life is a Cabaret”). Even though you know it’s the final number, there is still an abruptness to the end. The last scene closes with a Shakespearean ending on an empty stage. The credits don’t even have an audio/music bed.
Cabaret is innovative and startling in a different kind of way. However, it’s just not my cup of tea.