There are things that are stereotypically gay that I have little to no interest in--musical theater, The Wizard of Oz, etc. One of those things is Liza Minnelli. Don't get me wrong--I have come to an appreciation of Liza (as I likewise did with her mother, Judy Garland) as an adult--but as a kid, I had no interest in either mother or daughter. I've also never seen Cabaret from beginning to end; I've only seen it in bits and pieces. A friend recently mentioned she'd rewatched it on TCM, that it still held up, and was actually still a rather remarkable film. Last night, I noticed that it was available for viewing on my TCM app, so I thought, what the hell, cuddled up with the cat, and watched.
First off, can we talk about how beautiful Michael York was as a young man? He aged well, don't get me wrong, but as a young man he was just breathtaking.
No one really talks about Michael York when the subject of the film comes up; the movie made a star out of Liza Minnelli, and of course, Joel Grey was incredible as the Emcee (they both won Oscars). But in fairness, as young English Ph.D. candidate and wannabe writer Brian Roberts, York had a very bland role that didn't really call for him to do much of anything except recite lines and look pretty. But he was incredibly charismatic, which I'd forgotten--and as I watched, I remembered, "oh, yes, Michael York is why I loved the 1970's film versions of The Three Musketeers so much; he was wonderful as bumbling D'Artagnan."
It was also interesting to see how a major Hollywood film, made only a few years after Stonewall, handled the bisexuality/homosexuality situation. There really wasn't much to it; Brian tells Sally he's had three bad sexual experiences with three different women--after they become lovers they laugh about them being 'the wrong three women'--yet later, they both share a lover in Max; which could have been a huge melodramatic scene for them, but they both just kind of shrug it off when Sally says "I'm fucking Max" and Brian says, "I'm fucking Max, too." It was interesting.
It was also interesting to finally see the film, as an adult, and be able to understand it better, if that makes any sense. Cabaret is an incredibly visual film in its sensuality, rife with symbolism; I don't think there was another film musical anything like it before. The performances at the Kit Kat Club mirror what is going on societally in Weimar Germany, as the Nazis rise; as Brian and Sally and Max go about their business, while Fritz and Natalia fall in love--the culture and society is changing all around them. They notice it every once in a while, but then continue to go about their business. (I had also finished reading a book about the Weimar culture, which made the viewing experience even richer.)
Knowing, of course, what happened in Germany after the events of this film, there is a strong element of the cast 'fiddling while Rome burns'; I don't think I've ever seen a movie--or read a book--that has captured this so well, that answers the question of "how did people stand by and allow the Nazis to come to power and do the evil they did?" Because people go about their business, you see; you might talk about what's going on in the world, or experience a moment of concern about the government--but that doesn't pay the bills, you have to make rent, you have friends and loved ones you care about, and your own life; that it what really matters to everyone--and then suddenly, you wonder what the hell happened?
The "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" scene--which is very famous, is still talked about, and really hammers home the point of the film in case you weren't paying attention--is wrenching, as it transforms from a beautiful song sung by a handsome young boy about his hopes and aspirations into the horrifying meaning shown by his Hitler Youth uniform, as it grows into a swelling anthem as everyone else in the cafe rises and sings along. It's an amazing way of showing how Naziism rose; how one voice slowly convinced another, until everyone has gone along.
And of course, Baron Max saying with a carefree shrug, "We'll let the Nazis get rid of the Communists for us, and then we'll take care of them."
I have, of course, read Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which served as the source material for Cabaret--and now, I'd kind of like to revisit the book.
Also, I will say that I am glad that Liza Minnelli's ability to sing and perform was captured on film for all time. A great performance, over all.
And now back to the spice mines.
Yes, it's truly a magnificent film - from a visual and audio point of view, but as you say, it actually captures the society and social history of the time so very well.
I'm glad you've caught up with it again as an adult to truly appreciate the implications.