Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat

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Review of 'Cabaret', director Bob Fosse

'Cabaret' has been re-released for its thirtieth anniversary. It is a terrific musical set in Berlin in 1931. It tells the story of Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), the so called international star of the Kit Kat nightclub, and her entanglement with Brian Roberts (Michael York), a Cambridge PhD student.

'Cabaret' is based on Christopher Isherwood's stories about his time in Berlin, when it was the bohemian capital of Europe. The film depicts the sexual liberalism of the Weimar Republic, but also the desperate poverty of the time and the political turmoil of a society in crisis.

Brian arrives in Berlin, where he meets Sally. She takes him to the Kit Kat where he meets Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), a self confessed gigolo who wants to improve his English in the hope that this will help his search for a rich bride. Fritz is an essentially decent character trying to make ends meet in desperate times. One of the great ironies of the film is that Fritz successfully finds his rich heiress, Natasha Landauer (Marisa Berenson). The catch is that she's Jewish, and he is then faced with the dilemma of choosing between poverty and dangerous wealth.

While most of the characters are struggling to make ends meet, the dashing Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) breezes into their world and makes himself the centre of attention by throwing his money around. Max epitomises the rich and their complicity with the Nazis. When Brian, Sally and Max drive past a Communist paper sale that has been smashed up by the Nazis, leaving a Communist dead, Max airily informs Brian that the Nazis have their uses and that they can be controlled. This is revealed to be false later in the film, when Max and Brian visit a country pub. As they sit drinking a member of the Hitler Youth sings 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me', a pastiche of a Nazi song, and the whole pub rises to join in.

The cabaret acts as a commentary on the world outside through the highly effective use of montage. It also charts the growing influence of the Nazis. In an early scene a uniformed Nazi is kicked out of the club, and the Master of Ceremonies lampoons Hitler. However, by the end of the movie the club is filled with Nazis, and the MC sings an anti-Semitic song.

Minnelli is superb--awesome on stage, and naive and vulnerable off it. Joel Grey is equally compelling as the amoral MC. The choreography of the stylish shows is exquisite, complemented by fine camera work.

'Cabaret' has been given a limited release, so try and see it if you can.