“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“I’m going to be a great film star! That is, if booze and sex don’t get me first.”
This countdown has been a great excuse to re-watch movies I never would have found time for otherwise. It’s also forced me to sit through a few I would have preferred to never see again. But the real reason for undertaking this countdown, and the real benefit, is being forced to watch classics I never would have got to otherwise. I’m not anti musicals, I’m not anti Liza Minnelli. Besides knowing it’s a musical, starring Liza Minnelli, the only other thing I knew about Cabaret is that it was made in the 70s, possibly the greatest decade for movie making. So why have I always steered clear of this movie?
In Germany between World Wars, English academic Brian (Michael York) arrives in Berlin to work on his thesis. Taking a room in a boarding house, he meets Sally (Liza Minnelli). During the day, Brian uses her room to teach English to local Germans. During the night, Sally performs at the burlesque Kit Kat Klub. The loud American showgirl and the buttoned down English academic couldn’t be more different, but Sally forces a friendship on Brian anyway, and he does little to resist.
Sally puts on an obvious façade as the hard living, hard loving show girl who’s been there and done it all. Like the audience, Brian realises pretty quickly that it’s all just an act and that there’s a vulnerable, maybe even damaged woman underneath. Soon, two locals are caught up in Sally and Brian’s world. There’s Natalia (Marisa Berenson) a department store heiress who becomes one of Brian’s students, and Maximillian (Helmut Griem), a playboy with designs on both of the central characters.
Like I said, I’ve never considered myself anti Liza Minnelli, but I’ve never really seen much of what she does. In my lifetime, she’s always been more professional celebrity than actress or singer. But I thought she was pretty great in the original Arthur, and she was always hilarious on Arrested Development. But now, after seeing Cabarat, I get it. Liza Minnelli is a force of nature.
The song and dance numbers at the Kit Kat Klub are the perfect kind of camp, and Minnelli is the perfect person to deliver them. But even off stage, in the quieter, darker, more emotional moments with Brian, she kills those too. And Michael York is the perfect kind of conservative looking and sounding Brit to be just the right kind of foil for Minnelli’s bigger, more Broadway stage like tendencies.
But, apart from Minnelli and York, there isn’t much to Cabaret that really grabbed me. The songs are better than average, and when Minnelli’s at the heart of them, they’re pretty great. Though even with great performances and great music, I still need a compelling story at the centre. And at the end of Cabaret, I still didn’t really care about any of these people or their lives.
Best Director – Bob Fosse
Best Actress – Liza Minnelli
Best Supporting Actor – Joel Grey