May 9th, 2020

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Cabaret

As I go through the Oscars, I decided that before turning to The Godfather I'd look at the other big winner of 1972, Cabaret - which still holds the record as the film to have won most Oscars without winning Best Picture (8; followed by Gravity with 7 in 2013). I had seen a stage production in the Arts Theatre, Belfast, in 1992, directed by the late Peter Quigley who also starred as the MC (with Richard Croxford as the male lead), and a lot more recently I read the books on which it is loosely based. And of course I was familiar with a lot of the music. Here's a trailer:

I'm a huge Berlin nerd anyway and love the portrayal of the doomed diverse and decadent culture of 1930 - closer in time to 1972 than 1972 is to the present day, the self-confident world of the nightclub contrasting with the uncertain navigation of three young people orbiting each other in overlapping love affairs. Isherwood himself (along with W.H. Auden and Jean Ross, the model for Sally Bowles) criticised the film for underplaying his own homosexuality and also for minimising the crushing poverty of Berlin at the time. Even without those details, it's compelling enough, particularly for the performance of Liza Minelli, aged 26 but playing younger, an impressive combination of confidence and vulnerability.

The killer moment in the film, however, doesn't have her in it at all - she is supposedly asleep in the car when her two chaps take a break from a drive in the country and stop in at a rural beer-hall. It's particularly impressive in that we think going into the scene that it's going to be a moment of romantic exposition between Michael York and Helmut Griem as Brian and Max, and then turns into something completely different, Fascism smashing apart the details of intimacy. It is the only song not performed in the Kit-Kat Club, and it sends shivers down my spine every time. I am always particularly grabbed by the little girl with pigtails singing her heart out, and the old man who wants nothing to do with it.

I had not seen the film in full before, and I must admit it's not as good a film overall as The Godfather (which I will watch next), but it has a lot of other merits and duly won Oscars for Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Actress (Liza Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey as the MC), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Score Adaptation and Original Song Score and Best Sound. I note that the stage show's subplot of the older Jewish guy falling in love with the non-Jewish landlady was replaced by a younger Jewish woman falling in love with a secretly Jewish chap, which I think works better. (Though I'd have loved to have seen Lotte Lenya as the landlady in the original Broadway version.)

No crossover either with previous Oscar/Hugo winners or with Doctor Who, though Michael York has good sci-fi credentials as the title character of Logan's Run (and was also a guest star in Babylon 5).

And so, on the The Godfather. (And Slaughterhouse-Five, which won the Hugo that year.)