Cabaret (1972)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) I started watching Cabaret knowing only three big things about it—it stars Liza Minnelli, is popular within the gay community and has been widely hailed as a musical for people who don’t like musicals. Given that I don’t care for Minnelli, I am straight and I do like musicals, I shouldn’t have been surprised by my decidedly unimpressed reaction to the movie. Another one of those “wow, there are a lot more Nazis here than I expected” movies, director Bob Fosse’s Cabaret seems willfully dedicated to the task of deconstructing musicals. It takes places in early 1930s Germany, portraying it as a time when fascism is ascending and debauchery is reaching decadent extremes. Most of the songs are set within a nightclub (with one memorable exception), with much of its romantic plot about a three-way romance between an English writer, an American showgirl and a German aristocrat. So far so good … except that the deconstruction goes all the way. The love story crashes and burns (abortion is involved), while the rest of the film chronicles the way the world is headed toward genocide and war. Cabaret wants you to feel disgusted at its musical numbers: One of them (“The world belongs to me”) is a nightmarish descent from a Bavarian beer party to goose-stepping jingoism, while another (“If you could only see”) is a comedy routine with a vile punchline that is fit to cause nausea. It doesn’t help that despite being soaked in sexualized markers (fishnets, fishnets everywhere!), Cabaret is almost entirely unarousing—Minnelli does nothing for me, and the film goes out of its way to extinguish any sexiness. While it’s easy to respect the final result—including the gut punches of the worst musical number and the unhappy-ever-after ending, I can’t possibly imagine myself willingly seeing Cabaret again any time soon, which is not something I usually say about other musicals.

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