Cabaret at 50: A Dazzling and Devastating Masterpiece Returns to the Big Screen

Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome! Join us at Showroom Cinema this May as we mark the 50th anniversary of Bob Fosse’s iconic 1972 musical film, Cabaret.

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939), Cabaret tells the story of an American club singer Sally Bowles (played by the commanding and multiple award-winning Liza Minnelli in an all-time great performance) living in 1931 Berlin. Sally meets a British academic called Brian Roberts (Michael York), and despite his confusion over his sexuality, the pair become lovers. This only grows more complicated with the arrival of the wealthy and decadent playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), creating a bisexual love triangle that plays out against the rise of the Nazi party and the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

Fondly remembered for its showstopping numbers, towering performances, and decadent, pleasure-seeking leads, 50 years on from Cabaret’s release, the film remains utterly bone-chilling, with a pervading sense of doom. At the same time, it is witty and delightful, contradictory tensions that are managed with deftness by iconic director and choreographer, Bob Fosse. A story of impossible love and the torture of self-discovery in the face of encroaching authoritarianism and hate, it feels as contemporary as ever.

Fosse’s Cabaret was released six years after Kander and Ebb’s original stage musical debuted on Broadway. While the stage show heightened the camp debauchery of Isherwood’s words, dimming the underlying brutality of fascism, Fosse’s film successfully combines the stage show’s extravagance and libertine spirit with the source text’s grit and grime.

While audiences today are accustomed to seeing same-sex relationships on-screen, Cabaret’s matter-of-fact depictions of queerness, albeit implicitly conveyed through glances and euphemisms, were ground-breaking for its time. The film also ventured into new territories by taking the musical – traditionally the most family-friendly of genres – and subverting our expectations of this form to deal with dark and adult subject matter. While the 1960s had seen phenomenal successes in the movie musical, with The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins, subsequent attempts to adapt Broadway shows did not make back anything near their large budgets. A more radical approach was required. Bob Fosse’s film would turn out to be that radical revision. Now 50 years on, the film’s influence is continuously felt in the film musical genre, with its modernist and highly stylized numbers and lack of traditional bursting into song.

With characters seeking liberation from social and sexual conventions, whose attempts are halted by wider political forces, Cabaret maintains a continued power in contemporary society.

Cabaret: 50th Anniversary opens at Showroom on Friday 6th May. Tickets are on sale now

This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 05 April 2022


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