Cabaret is the story of a girl with loads of personality and talent and not much looks who has a tendency to sleep with gay men and party all night.
In other words, the Liza Minelli Story.Our story opens with the deliciously creepy Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies, who bids us “Willkommen” and introduces us to the denizens of the Kit Kat Club, all of whom are in desperate need of makeovers.
Berlin in 1933 was a sad place. They couldn’t even afford sequins for their showgirls. As these dirty, mannish dancers attempt to entertain us with their clumsy, Germanic attempts at being sexy, we see Michael York arriving in Berlin on train. He is young, clean, and sexually repressed. He doesn’t stand a chance.
At the boarding house, he meets Liza, who thinks she’s being shocking by smoking and wearing green nail polish. She makes a pathetic attempt at seducing him but he pretends not to notice. Like the desperate fruitfly she is, she invites him to see her perform that night, because if there’s one thing she learned from her mother, it’s “If you’re not sure he’s into girls, sing for him, baby. That’s how I got your father. Works every time”
And it does.
“Mein Lieber Herr” is Tom’s favorite song in the whole movie. Not only is he known to sing it while mopping, he knew all the words (even the German) by the time he was eight, thanks to his mother’s sainted 8-track. Oh, Mom. How could you not see it?
Liza is ON FIRE here. It doesn’t get more Liza than this.
Director Bob Fosse has a well-earned reputation for being a genius. Notice that the choreography is intricate, but not polished – and dirty without being vulgar. It would have taken you right out of the gritty, depressing world he was creating if the showgirls were all stunning and stunningly talented. Notice also how much and how often you see the ceiling of the club – a huge no-no in musicals, which normally trade in wide open, dream-like spaces. Not only was this a smart move, illustrating the seedy, claustrophobic atmosphere of the cabaret, but it was a subtle way of signaling to the audience that this was not your parents’ musical.
Liza still wants Michael’s attention desperately, so she introduces him to other men and swoons around like a drunken drag queen. It’s like an eerie map to the next 30 years of her life.
Michael always seems to have to take a piss when he’s at the club and his trips to the bathroom are longer and more frequent with each visit. Liza thinks he has a weak bladder. Poor Liza.
Later, Liza runs out of pills.
When the screaming and shaking subside, she decides to try once again to seduce Michael. Her sad attempts at being sexy explain why she can’t get any film roles, even though she’s slept with every casting director in Berlin.
Michael reacts with the British version of “passion.” Which is to say, he doesn’t react at all. Sally gets the hint and they decide to be best friends instead and join the drama club.
Michael takes to giving English lessons to pay the rent and it is then that we meet Marisa Berenson and her delicious hats (which would make a great name for a band). And thank God for that, because this movie is in some desperate need of fabulosity and attractive clothing.
Liza is threatened by her presence and jealous of her virginal hat.
Marisa, far too well-brought-up to notice (or to comment on Liza’s atrocious chapeau) attempts to steer the conversation to bodily fluids. Honestly, the line “Der plegma. Dat comes in der tubes.” has GOT to be the most repeated line of the movie among the gay men we know. Don’t ask us why. It IS a funny scene though.
Years ago, we were poolside in South Beach (I know, right?) when who sat down at a nearby table but Marisa herself. Lorenzo noticed her first and said “Who is that? She’s fabulous.” Tom had a momentary brain fart and couldn’t remember her name. He leaned in and hissed “She’s …whatsername…Oh, you know! ‘Der plegma dat comes in der tubes!’” He got it immediately.
Anyway, Liza’s had enough of this polite but disgusting conversation and instead decides to have an impolite and disgusting conversation, so she turns the topic to syphilis and fucking.
Meanwhile, the boarding house is steamy with hot girl-on-girl action.
In a desperate, last ditch attempt to seduce Michael, Liza removes all her makeup and dresses up like a little boy. A little boy who looks eerily like Judy Garland.
Once Liza gets laid, it’s suddenly 1974 and Liza’s at the disco tripping her ass off.
But kittens, this would be a very short movie if Michael and Liza fell in love. Enter Max, who Tom and Lorenzo, thousands of miles apart and decades from meeting each other, BOTH had a crush on when they were ten years old. The dry cleaning lady does NOT approve. Or maybe she’s smiling. It’s hard to tell sometimes with Germans.
Max is loaded and Sally’s a whore, so suddenly he’s everywhere and Michael is supposed to love it.
But she sure does. For some reason, people in Berlin in 1933 signaled their emotional states and inner thoughts with their tongues. Here, Liza is saying “Do me on a bed of money!”
Here, The MC is saying “We all know you’re a slut and all of this is going to blow up in your face.”
Liza responds with “Shut up you tiny little androgynous toad. I know EXACTLY what I’m doing and I’m going to be a HUGE STAR and you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about and ohgod I think I took one too many of those pink ones and my eyes feel like they’re going to pop out of my head.”
These two just love silently cruising the shit out of each other while lighting cigarettes, which answers the age-old question “What happens when a German and a Brit are hot for each other?” Answer: “Nothing.”
Meanwhile, this movie can’t be all fun and games so Fosse decides to remind us where and when they are.
This scene is BRILLIANT. We can’t gush enough over it. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is an astonishingly beautiful and stirring song. The beauty of the scene is, you start off thinking how lovely it is and slowly Fosse reveals the dawning horror until by the end, your stomach is in knots. Extremely effective and unforgettable – and that last shot of Joel Grey is incredibly creepy.
Later, Max and Michael engage in another long staring contest.
To the average viewer, this might seem a little indecipherable, but every queen in the audience got it right away. “Oh, honey. You slept with him. Now he’s never going to call you again and every time he sees you on the sidewalk he’s going to suddenly find something interesting on the other side of the street.” We’ve all been there, honey.
Men are shit.
Michael goes back to the boarding house and like a good little closet case, flips out on Sally for wearing yet another ridiculous hat and reveals that he and Max have been slipping each other the bratwurst behind her back.
Liza, being every inch her mother’s daughter, is suitably shocked.
Sexually humiliated, Michael wisely decides to pick a fight with a couple Nazis.
Which goes over as well as you’d expect.
He and Liza make up, Max takes a hike and Liza finds out she’s pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is.
Man, this is depressing. Can’t they just send in Gene Kelly to shake his ass and cheer us up a little bit?
Michael offers to marry her and once again, being every inch the daughter of Judy Garland, she not only agrees to marry the man who slept with the last man she slept with, but she toasts her impending motherhood by getting drunk and phones Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor to plan her wedding.
But kittens, it just wasn’t meant to be. Liza goes and has an abortion (WHY didn’t they have a musical number for THAT scene?) and she and Michael decide to go their separate ways in a devastatingly sad goodbye scene at the train station.
But like every diva whose heart has been broken, she deals with it by going out on stage and blowing them all away. How fabulous would it be if every time we got our hearts broken we could just walk on to a stage and sing the hell out of our sadness? Who’d need therapy after that?
And so our depressing little musical comes to an end. But don’t feel bad for anyone, poodles. They won a SHITLOAD of Oscars for it and as we’ve all learned from this movie, if you can’t find love then go on stage and settle for the next best thing: applause.
Next Week: South Pacific! HOT shirtless men and Happy Talk!