Bottom Line: Overrated is Cabaret, ol’ chum, mediocre is Cabaret.
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Starring: Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel, Fritz Wepper, Gerd Vespermann, Helen Vita, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Michael York, Sigrid von Richthofen
There are plenty of reasons why I try to avoid musicals and their film adaptations. Of all those, I think the biggest may be that I find it weird and routine the way performers break out into song whenever they feel like it, and they don’t seem to realize that they’re not merely talking like a regular human being. I don’t know what anybody else thinks of this cliché, or if it’s even noticeable, but it drives me nuts. CABARET, thank God, veers away from the stereotype, and it may be one of the only musicals–film or stage–I have seen that is so subtly anomalous in this way. Not one song is performed off the stage. Unfortunately, there was little else in this absurd musical that caught my attention. Whenever I heard someone associate mediocrity with this 1972 film, which still holds the record for winning the most Academy Awards (8) without winning Best Picture, I was ready to jump to its defense. I was ready to state that it certainly would have won Best Picture, had it not been up against an unbeatable GODFATHER for that award. This just goes to show that you can’t say anything about the quality of a film without actually having seen it for yourself. Even without such a classic in competition, I highly doubt CABARET would have had a chance to take home the most anticipated film award of the year. Now if there was an academy’s Award for the Most Mixed Bag of the Year, it’d be a pretty high candidate.
Willkommen, bienvenue. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Set in 1931 Berlin, Germany, CABARET is the story of an ostentatious singer named Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and the brutal Nazi Party struggles occurring outside her career. The story is simple but extremely difficult to follow, due to the uneventful two-hour bore it is overstretched into. When director Bob Fosse attempts to dig deeper into the utterly shallow plot, we are reminded of CHICAGO from thirty years later. A much better movie if you’re looking for something that’s not just visual razzle-dazzle. Most of the musical numbers, as well, are downright obnoxious and repetitive. It’s sad when you feel desire to skip over the music in a musical.
Now on to the good.
Speaking of visual razzle-dazzle. The cinematography, 40 years later, is beautiful eye candy, as are the costume designs, the lighting, and the (intentionally overwhelming) makeup. Liza Minnelli proves within the very first number–which, in combination with the final number, is likely the only one that is not both silly and pointless–to be a wonderful singer and actress. She protrudes above the entire cast in both areas.
My definition of overrated is when I don’t like a film nearly as much as every other film critic/historian seems to, and I cannot understand why they may enjoy it more than I. CABARET is overrated beyond human belief. There are definitely some unmissable bright spots here, but if there’s one critic who overlooked every single outstanding flaw in this film, I will make room in my heart for worry.