I am back again with another AFI Top 100 film and similar to so many of the others that I have reviewed… I don’t get it. I actually watched Cabaret over two months ago. I read a few things about the film and re-watched a few clips online. Even with all that, I don’t get it. I am not telling you this is a bad movie, far from it. It is actually a pretty good film. I respect the direction, the musical numbers, I even respect Liza Minnelli’s acting, but I don’t understand how this movie is a top 100 of all time. With so many films that I feel have been left off the AFI list, I can easily find my way to dump this one from the list for more powerful and meaningful films. But again, the whole deal is not just about the quality of the movie but the sociological, political, cultural or some other affect it had beyond what is on the screen.
Cabaret is the story of Sally Bowles, an American singer in 1930 Berlin just as the Nazi party is coming to power. The film has very little to do with the Nazi’s, Hitler or the impending war, but does have a bit of commentary on the changing society in Germany at the time. Mostly the film is about Sally’s strange love affair with Brian Roberts an uptight British teacher who is in every way the polar opposite of Sally’s over the top personality. She has no filter on what she says, she is sexual, vivacious (that’s hard to say about Liza Minnelli) full of life and an attention whore. Everything about Sally seems fake, her flamboyance and constant smile seem pasted on more than how she actually feels. Her lies about her father, where he is and how he feels about her make me think that Sally is actually unhappy but lying to herself about why. Instead she hopes that this life of hers will lead to fame and fortune and that will lead her to happiness.
Brian, a Cambridge student looking to pay his way by teaching English to Germans, is meek, introverted and very proper. Sally breaks him out of his shell and the two fall in love. Meanwhile there is a bunch of singing and dancing, fortunately it all happens on stage instead of just having the characters break out into song as a way to progress the story or express their feelings. Things get complicated for Sally and Brian as they meet Max, a bi-sexual filthy rich playboy, who is more than happy to manipulate both Sally and Brian to get what he wants and what he wants is sex with both of them.
The best social commentary in the film for me came from the side characters of Fritz and Natalia. Fritz is a gigolo who sees Natalia as his money ticket. Natalia, who has hidden her religion/race, is a rich Jewish heiress who is afraid of Fritz’s motives despite her feelings for him. In the end the German and Jew get married and the thoughts of what their life will be like just a few years in the future given what we know will happen in Germany is a fascinating idea that the movie only hints at.
Cabaret is a descent movie. There are a couple of amusing or interesting songs but the entire idea of switching over to the stage performances or watching the Master of Ceremonies perform some number seems so out of place and annoying. The numbers have nothing to do with the story and work more like breaks between scenes than actual parts of the plot. If I have to put a musical on the Top 100 list give me Little Shop of Horrors instead. While this is a good movie, you can bet money that it is a film I will never watch again.