01 January 2016

Life May Just Be a Cabaret

Bob Fosse's Cabaret takes us back to the final moments of the Weimar Republic in Germany, a time of conflicting ideologies and shifting cultural momentums, when any flame of novelty may instantaneously develop into an inferno.

Visiting Berlin, a British doctoral student, Brian Roberts (Michael York), finds lodging with Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American dancer at the Kit Kat Club, a local cabaret. Throughout the film, we see their own fits of sexual experimentation and growth with each other and others in the Kit Kat Club community.
Permeating the film, however, is the hidden development of the once-innocuous but presently jeopardous Nazi Party within the seemingly liberal, elite Berlin culture. Initially dismissed for its unrealistic extremism, the Nazi Party fails to pose any threat to members of the local cabaret for the majority of the film; nevertheless, it is apparent, by the end, that the Party has built itself on the backs of the disenfranchised and the ignored, presenting clear risk of peril for those standing in its way. Indeed, the impromptu crowd-wide performance of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me"—a number reminiscent of old German anthems, written for the musical production—confirms the eerie power the hands of the Party have grown to clench over the course of the story, grasping the entire beer garden in only a few minutes.

The ultimate measure of Cabaret's effectiveness, though, may be in its ability to, within a relatively simple plot—a temporary sexual and romantic experiment among a handful of twenty-somethings before they eventually drift apart—encapsulate so much of German culture in its transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich.

Indeed, Cabaret is a film of self-expression amid fear, a rumination on self-eminence before self-destruction, with its ends rooted deeper than its beginnings, leaving only the audience's presumption as its conclusion.

Brian Roberts (Michael York) and Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) sing alongside a street before returning to their shared apartment in Berlin.
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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