So, here’s a fun thing I do that’s very stupid. Sometimes, if a classic film has a reputation as being one of the all time classics… I won’t watch it. Most of these are films from before I was born or, at least, young enough that I wouldn’t have been able to see upon release but if they’re influential as hell then I probably missed them. This is for a variety of reasons that I think make sense (they don’t, I’m dumb). The first is just a lack of availability, half the fun of being in Australia is that a lot of major films don’t end up on easily available streaming services at an affordable rate. The second reason is simply that there’s so many current films out that I genuinely didn’t have the time to catch up on them, I don’t have time to go back and watch Terms of Endearment because I have to go catch a 3pm screening of Here Comes The Grump (like I said, I AM DUMB). The third, and only legitimate reason I have, is that I have this worry that I will be tainted by the films that referenced the classic so it won’t seem as good by comparison. This actually happened with Psycho, a movie I didn’t watch until this year because I had not only seen a billion people reference the shower scene, but I’d seen the horror films that took influence from Psycho and tried to go beyond the kind of violence that was considered shocking in 1960. For the record, upon seeing it I did promptly kick myself for being so dumb but I still do it. I tell you all this because I should’ve seen Cabaret long ago, but I saw everyone reference it and worried it wouldn’t hold up so please remember to aim the tomatoes you want to throw directly at my face, I deserve it.
You all know the story of Cabaret, I’m the idiot who only just saw it, but because it’s my current structure… Cabaret follows Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), a performer at the Kit Kat club and one of the most joyfully open and happy people you’ve ever met. She meets a young British man, Brian Roberts (Michael York), and the two of them soon form a relationship that will eventually include both of them having a tryst with the wealthy Maximilian (Helmut Friem), a pregnancy, an abortion and a lot of glorious musical numbers. While this is going on, the town around them has been slowly overtaken by Nazi’s and their stain of anti-Semitism begins to change the world surrounding the Kit Kat club, and even the people inside.
Not only does this film hold up, it’s still as shocking as it had to have been upon the original release. To put a spotlight on it, the film contains threesomes, abortion, Nazism, animal murder, anti-Semitism, sexual assault and so many other taboo topics that it’s genuinely stunning that it all exists in the same movie that includes a song I once heard on The Muppets. Every few minutes I was just going “God, I can’t wait to see what TV network tries to do a live version of this musical” because I don’t know how much of it you could get in a film that was rated M on the DVD I got a hold of. They certainly don’t shy away from tackling the tougher subjects, they almost embrace the fact that they can get away with it. After all, if you’re doing a movie about a bawdy cabaret in Berlin just as WW2 began, you can get away with pushing a few boundaries and this one pushed them with a wink from the disturbing Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey)
It stuns me how much of this is still relevant today; sadly most of the Nazi stuff feels more real than ever. I had heard about how shocking the Tomorrow Belongs to Me song is and maybe seen a clip, but you don’t really understand the full horror of that song until you see it in context with seemingly decent people joining in with the avowed Nazi. I can’t imagine why THAT would feel relevant today, but it does. There’s a real horror about how the film just slowly grows into acceptance of these swastika-bearing bastards. It starts like all good films should start, by having the Nazi forcibly ejected and shoved around like an inflatable clown but by the end, they’re everywhere and they’re being pandered to. Again, I have NO idea why on earth this feels relevant today, but it’s kind of amazing seeing a film from 1972 tackle that so openly and basically lay out the point of “These assholes will take over if you let them”.
As everyone but me knew before now, the entire movie has one other purpose beyond “Hey, Nazi’s suck” and “Maybe it’s fine if you want to screw someone of either gender”, namely “Liza Minnelli owns your ass for the next 2 hours so sit there and enjoy” and lord have mercy did I sit there and enjoy what Liza was doing. Her performance not only still holds up and makes you go “Oh, so THAT’S why you won all the awards”. It’s a mix of brilliant subtle moments and bold over the top camp that is so hard to pull off, but Liza does it and makes it look effortless. It’s a performance so perfect that clips of it should just be played on a loop for eternity on some TV station so people can stumble upon it and experience the awe of watching her go between being hilarious, being charming and being devastated within a matter of moments.
I feel like I should do some form of penance for never watching Cabaret until now because after a single viewing I realise not only did I deny myself one of the greatest films of all time, but a film that still holds up even when compared to more recent films. It still shocks, it still excites and it still delights with every glorious musical number. It’s not just the nostalgia talking, you could show this film to any teenager today and they’d get a kick out of it. So, if you’re dumb like me and somehow didn’t watch Cabaret yet then join me in being undumb (that’s a word now!) and watch it ASAP.