Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Creepyness" pervades "Cabaret", but timelessness does not

As my son and I watched the beginning of Cabaret (1972), number 63 on AFI's top 100, he got his first look at Joel Gray as the Master of Ceremonies.

Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies
"He's creepy looking." he said.

From the mouths of babes (well, at 12 he's  not exactly a babe). As I continued to watch (he wandered off to his PS3 shortly after the first scene), his words crept (pun intended) back into my mind. There is a "creepy" nature to this film. Some of it was intended, some of it not.

It's creepy to watch as the decadent, amoral, disaffected Berliners stumble through life which almost makes one understand how the Nazis were able to rise to power so quickly.

It's creepy to watch Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) delude herself into thinking that her father or her German sugar daddy will ever REALLY care for her.

Cabaret (film)Image via WikipediaIt's creepy to watch Brian Roberts (Michael York) battle his internal conflict between his love for Sally and his lust for Max, Sally's sugar daddy.

I did like the directing and editing. Most musicals work the numbers into the plot, which always seems unrealistic to me. Cabaret, however, uses the frame of the cabaret show to tell the story and connects the musical numbers with the plot instead of integrating them. The Master of Ceremonies dances with a gorilla while singing "If You Could See Her", a song seemingly about looking for the inner beauty in a person. It's a wonderful song until the end when he mentions that she's "a Jew." Suddenly, the racist tones of the song connect with the rising antisemitism in Germany and the developing relationship between Fritz and Natalia. One scene consists of quick cuts between the laughing decadence of the Kit Kat Club and the brutal beating of the club's owner by a pack of Nazis. The juxtaposition of those images sends a strong message.

I suppose some of the material in the film (pre-marital sex, bisexuality) may have been a bit shocking for the time it was made, but that part doesn't hold up well over time. The look into the rise of the Nazis and the frivolity of love between insecure characters holds up better.

I suppose for sheer shock value at the time, it would warrant #63, but I judge a classic by its timeless nature. Cabaret doesn't quite meet that standard.
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