“CABARET”— Beautiful on Blu Ray

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“Cabaret”

Glorious on Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

“Cabaret”, the story of Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli), a night club entertained is one of the movies that are considered by many to be a masterpiece. After seeing it in new digital transfer on blu ray, I believe you will agree that this is a very special film. It s set in Berlin where the Nazi party is beginning its meteoric rise and Germany is becoming more and more dangerous. Nightclub singer, Sally Bowles pays no mind to politics and she spends her nights at work at the Kit Kat Klub. During the daytime hours, Sally always finds what to do. When a new tenant, Brian Roberts (Michael York), an Englishman moves into the boarding house where she lives, Sally finds new opportunities that include befriending Brian.

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Brian admittedly says that he does not sleep with women but Sally is a sexy Bohemian and a siren and soon the two are involved in a relationship—they become lovers.

Sally and Brian become friendly with Fritz, a young German partygoer but when he falls in love with Natalia (Marissa Berenson), a beautiful, rich Jewish woman and the three spend less time together. The fact that Natalia is Jewish is a reminder that anti-Semitism was growing in Germany and Jews were blamed for all of the failures that had occurred there.

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Then Sally meets Maximilian (Herbert Griem), a very wealthy and decadent playboy and he likes both Brian and Sally. Sally likes him for his money, Brian doesn’t trust him. The three begin to spend time together and Max gives them gifts but soon this three-way relationship becomes complicated. When this happens, Sally retreats into the nightclub and there life is beautiful and the Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) assures us of that with his opening son of “Wilkommen”.

Bob Fosse directed “Cabaret” and he changed the original Broadway production and several of the hit songs from the theater version did not make it to the screen. Fosse really wanted to forget about it being a musical and he removed scenes in which the characters sang. He limited almost all of the music scenes to action at the Kit Kat Klub which uses music for social comment and commentary. There is an exception to this and Sally also sings when she thinks. Fosse was looking at the historical value of the film and Nazism was not musical. Several of the characters are sad and confused people and John Kander and Fred Ebb who wrote the songs gave us some very dark music that is ironic and dangerous. The film is an engrossing stylized work.

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Liza Minelli is magnificent as Sally and this became her signature role. In Isherwood’s books “I Am a Camera” and “Farewell to Berlin”, Sally is depicted as a very bad lounge singer who thought she was a star but was stuck at the Kit Kat Klub because she could not get a job anywhere else. Several, including Isherwood, felt that Minelli had too much talent for the role. We see Sally as never really being better than she is. Liza sees her as a girl who ends up in a sleazy bar even though she is so talented. She is not disciplined and stable enough to do anything with her talent and she seems to be headed in the direction of a bad and lonely end. Minelli plays Sally as bombastic, loud and flamboyant, as a “divinely decadent” woman. It is all an act with Sally Bowles. Sally only comes to life when she has an audience that does not care about who she is because then she can be anyone she wants. When she performs on stage she exudes confidence—the footlights act as armor for her and she feels protected. She knows she wears a mask on-stage and she becomes who she pretends to be. You must look carefully at her when she sings the title song and you will see terror and despair; she is a woman who wants to be loved but not as the performer but as the woman.

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The rest of the cast is fine as well. Joey Grey won the Academy Award for his role as the MC and we only see him when he is on-stage. When he and Minelli are on the stage at the same time, it is electrifying. Michael York gives a very strong subtle performance as Sally’s best friend but she is so overpowering that he kind of fades. Marissa Berenson as Natalia is very proper and Helmut Griem is hedonistic and creepy as Max.

This is not the first time “Cabaret” has been issued on DVD but the previous disks were not well made and this blu ray release puts all others to shame. The new restoration is perfect. The blu ray comes packaged with a 40 page illustrated book and the following extras:

A commentary by Stephen Tropiano, author of Cabaret: Music on Film. This is a nice addition. Tropiano is, of course, knowledgeable, but he’s also engaging and interesting to listen to. There’s a lot of background and trivia here.

“Cabaret: The Musical That Changed Musicals.” Running nearly half an hour, this featurette focuses on Fosse and his creative process in making the film.

“Cabaret: A Legend in the Making.” Created for the 25th Anniversary (1997), it’s a pretty great “making of” that features Minnelli, York, Grey, Kander, “The Recreation of an Era” is a vintage promotional featurette that offers up a bit of “behind the scenes” footage of Fosse.

“The Kit Kat Klub Memory Gallery” consists of a bunch of short interview clips (they average around a minute each) of various members of the cast and crew sharing anecdotes. These look like outtakes from the “Legend in the Making” featurette.

The original trailer.

I recently read a brilliant quote about “Cabaret” which says “Cabaret” isn’t just one of the great movie musicals; it’s one of the great movies. On blu ray it is even greater.

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