Special Presentations | 1972 | 124 minutes
Stranger Says: Cabaret was the first movie musical to solve Awkward Silence Syndrome. What is ASS? In a live performance, the cast members look out at the audience, they sing, they dance. A number will build until the singing and dancing reach a crescendo and… then… the performers hit their marks, look straight out… and stop. The whole show stops. If the show is good, the audience fills what would otherwise be dead air with cheers and applause. Essentially the audience restarts the musical, upping the energy level while letting the cast know that, yes, we love what they’re doing up there. As a show progresses, the ongoing back-and-forth between the cast and the audience results in the musical gathering an exhilarating, dizzying momentum. But in movie theaters, the audience simply doesn’t respond when a number ends. The audience sits there, chewing Junior Mints and sipping Cokes—and, really, why should it respond? The director Bob Fosse essentially solved this problem, ASS, in his groundbreaking film version of Cabaret—which won eight Oscars in 1973 (The Godfather won best picture, but Fosse beat out Francis Ford Coppola for best director)—by setting all of the numbers in… a cabaret. On-screen, an audience watched the numbers, laughed, clapped, and interacted with the performers. Energy builds throughout Fosse’s Cabaret, much as it would watching a musical live onstage. (DAN SAVAGE)
SIFF Says:Very little was retained from the 1966 stage musical Cabaret when it was made into a film five years later, except the premise―but what a premise: the cruelly ironic contrast between the decadent floor show at Berlin’s seedy Kit Kat Club and the violent rise of the Third Reich outside the club’s walls. Screenwriter Jay Presson Allen went back to Christopher Isherwood’s original stories of expat life in between-the-wars Berlin, replacing the subplots completely and modeling the male lead, Brian (played by Michael York), much more closely on Isherwood himself―making him, daringly for the time, bisexual. Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat’s free-spirited star, was transposed from Brit to Yank, providing Liza Minnelli with an iconic role and an Oscar®. Academy Awards® also went to director Bob Fosse for his stunningly staged and shot production numbers and to Joel Grey for his unforgettably epicene and sinister Master of Ceremonies. Perhaps what’s most crushing about Cabaret is not only its sense of foreboding doom, but the realization that despite all their celebratory gender-bending iconoclasm, their insistence that “life is a cabaret,” the artists of the time could do nothing to stop the cataclysm. In keeping brutal reality at bay, fiddling while Berlin burns (or at least starts to smolder), are Bowles and the MC complicit? Fosse seems to ask. And are we watching a beautifully made film about the impotence of art?
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