Musical Monday: Cabaret

Monday, February 19, 2007 by
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 "Wilkommen" 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.
He doesn't.
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."

Liza could do a LOT with her tongue.
Strangely, Michael accepts Max into their little menage, even though it's humiliating. Hmmm. Wonder why?
Oh dear.

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!


Cat said...

I love Michael York - like Michael Caine, he's one of those British actors who works his butt off to pay the rent. Imagine the brainlock I felt last year after watching Cabaret one evening, and then the next night running across "The Omega Code" on TBN.

Max's little blond mustachio never did it for me. Sorry, boys. :)

Anonymous said...

Is that final outfit a onepiece dress?

Anonymous said...

Dear Gayboys, I just got your next theme for the blog: films that look at one decade though the lens of another. Remember Grease - the seventies nostalgia for the fifties? Or good old Dirty Dancing, when we got the eighties view of the sixties (and that unforgettable final dance sequence...when all of them seemed to be doing...Thriller?) If anything needs your critical attention, this does.

ToddNY said...

"hey 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."


snf in va said...

Ich liebe the Gayboys!

You made my day.

Marlene said...

I just hated movie musicals when I was a kid, until my mother dragged me to see CABARET at the movies...I was blown away, and it remains one of my favorite movies.

Happened to run into (literally) Michael York while browsing an art show outside the Pacific Design Ctr in LA many years ago. He was wearing a light blue sweater that matched his gorgeous eyes and I about fainted when I realized who I had bumped GOD he was handsome.

Great recap, possums! This movie was Fosse at his best!

Gorgeous Things said...

"South Pacific! HOT shirtless men and Happy Talk!"

Oh, oh! And Luther in hula drag! Oh year, and Mitzi Gaynor in sailor drag too, but who cares?
I love Musical Mondays!

Sewhat? said...

I could not agree with you more about this movie and especially about "Tomorrow Belongs To Me". It gave me goose bumps (the bad kind) listening to that song again. This is the exact scene I thought of when I first heard Bush and Cheney referring to the "Homeland". It creeps me out every time someone uses that term, still. I find the societal parallels very disturbing.

Excellent recap. And thanks for going in a lighter direction next week. Yikes.

frogboots said...

i have never seen this movie and probably never will (i don't really get musicals).

but i love musical mondays - i feel like i've gotten what i need just be reading your recap (and watching a few clips).

Liza's eyes make me think of whatshisname in Clockwork Orange.

pyramus said...

You guys--you already know this but someone has to say it out loud--are total fucking geniuses, and "Marisa Berenson and her delicious hats (which would make a great name for a band)" is one of the funniest things I have ever read.

Just don't burn out or anything, okay? Three blogs!

thombeau said...

T&L, you "two ladies" continually make me LAUGH OUT LOUD! Danke schon!

As you know, CABARET is sacred not only to many of The Gays, but also to countless cinemaphiles as well. It is as perfect as a film can be, elevating the medium to not just high camp, but high art. Every shot is necessary, and nothing is there that shouldn't be. Flawless. And then there's The Liza Factor; it's the performance of a lifetime, and a role she never recovered from.

Once in the early eighties the local revival house in Boystown, here in Chicago, showed a double bill of Cabaret and Victor/Victoria. As you can imagine, the place was packed to the ceiling with gay men, most of them high on something. I know I was! I was amazed how many others besides myself had every line of dialogue memorized! And those of us still around today still do!

Also, around that time, a friend (now dead from the plague) and I went to LA and snuck into the Oscars, well by the back door anyway, where we saw absolutely EVERYONE. I could go on about that, but just wanted to mention that after the show as Miss Minnelli waved at everyone (it was the year she co-hosted) my friend and I, doing the best Sally Bowles we could whilst out of our minds on MDA, screamed "'Wiedersehen, darling!" What can I say, we were all so much younger then...(Needless to say, every year when the Oscars roll around I end up drunkenly recounting that night to anyone who will listen. It WAS an evening of celebrity overload, that's for sure!)

The most poignant moment in Cabaret is when, during the title track, Liza sings "Well, that's what comes from too much pills and liquor". You KNOW she is not acting, but remembering Mama. And perhaps gazing at her own future? It's a strange and real moment, where art imitates life imitating art imitating life.....

Brooke said...

My favourite movie of all time getting the gayboy treatment.
I agree fully with pyramus.

Total. Fucking. Geniuses.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

macasism said...

I'm ashamed to say I've never seen this movie because I love Bob Fosse, but it's memorable to me because my hopelessly suburban parents walked out on it. Now I know why. I think I'll put it on my netflix.

Shanghaishrimpo said...

I was crazy about this film the very first time I saw it. I was in high school. I was such an innocent though. I watched again, on DVD, years later and was amazed that the innocent and young 'shrimpo had completely missed the entire gay angle!

Sewhat? said...

Well, Dearest Boys, I have had "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" stuck in my head on an endless loop ALL DAY LONG.

My dog wants to know why I am goose stepping around the house. ARRRGH !!!

Anonymous said...

How come there was no mention of Joel Grey in drag? That's my only question. That is the only thing keeping this gem off of my "Best Things I've Ever Seen On The Internet" list.

You better have a good reason.

I'll wait.

- The Maljax

Leslie said...

This is now a must-read blog for me. You had me laughing and crying in your depiction of Caberet, which I LOVED since the first time I saw it. I don't know if it was because I wanted to grow up and be a slut NO I mean dancer like Liza, or if it was the very first time that *GASP!* it became real to me that queerfolks like me really existed. My favorite parts, of coruse, were all the dancing, and the one bit of dialog along the lines of
Well FUCK him!
I already did.
*chuckle* So did I.

Thanks for such an entertaining journey through one of my all time favorite movies!

Miranda said...

Thanks Gayboys! Great recap. Now I'll have to rent "South Pacific" so I can be up to speed for next week.

Can I suggest a musical? How about "The Sound of Music," with the fabulously bitchy baroness, the hot-hot-hot Christopher Plummer, and the always lovely Julie Andrews?

Anonymous said...

Oh, please do "Kiss me Kate".

-- desertwind

Vic said...

...he and Max have been slipping each other the bratwurst behind her back.

And this is the reason why I keep returning to your blogs over and over and over again.

Ms. Place said...

Dahlings, that was me erasing my own comment. Thinking about bratwursts had me trigger happy with my mouse, and I posted the same message twice.

GG said...

*GASP!* it became real to me that queerfolks like me really existed.

Too cute! My first encounter with a fabulously gay man was at the tender age of 6, circa 1968 at my auntie's beauty shop. EVERYONE smoked, and she had one of those old-fashioned soda pop coolers where you would slide the (glass !) bottles along to get them out.
There was also Wes. He was a great stylist and I just knew he was different, even then. He was at home in the shop, and wore "ski pants" that zipped up the side. I spent a lot of time at my auntie's shop, and remember Wes and the girls doing my hair and makeup when I was a princess for Halloween. Good times, good times.

Bill said...

You guys really need to do Musical Mondays as a monthly feature in a magazine (Advocate, Outzone, etc - are you listening?).

Better yet, collect the best and publich them as a book a year from now. The photo rights would be a nightmare, but there's got to be a way to do it.

These are priceless. Funny as hell, irreverent, insightful, loving and just so damned entertaining.

I am warming up my Honey Buns for next week.

bungle said...

These Musical Monday posts are so funny on their own, I don't even have to watch the flicks themselves.

Years from now internet archaeologists will find the PRG blogs and declare them one of the Million Wonders of the Internet (well, there's so much, and more to come, that's still gonna be elite status).

mike said...

I have to pipe in and say "Cabaret" was the first modern musical. the cast does not burst into song in the niddle of a wheat field.. the songs were done on stage and commented on the story line. kudos to our boys for providing us the best musical clips from the movie (my faves at least) "Mein Herr" shows the brilliance of Fosse's choreography, "Tomorrow" shows excellence in storytelling, "cabaret" is just LIZA being Sally! the DVD special features illuminates some choices Fosse made which makes the film greater!

Suzanne said...

"If you happen
To be rich,
And you feel like a
Night's entertainment,
You can pay for a
Gay escapade."

Love those lyrics, and ain't it the damn truth. Look at Lance Bass: total fug and with that hot guy with the weird name....

Red Seven said...

This is my favorite ... movie ... ever!! Fosse is indeed brilliant, and Liza was fantastic and it just never gets old. God, I'm such a queen.

madelineanne said...

GREAT recap!

But I have to ask if you saw the Broadway revival (with Alan Cumming) because although the movie is sacred the revival was also brilliant.

I particularly love the vocals by Michelle Pawk on "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" which is far far creepier in the movie, but I still adore the Broadway rendition.

Thank you for all the wonderful posts boys!

mike said...

"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?)"

They did.. back at the Kit Kat club they had a can-can ending with the screaming splits

Karrol said...

"South Pacific! HOT shirtless men and Happy Talk!"
Yeah! Thank you Fairy Godfathers for granting my wish! Warm Huggies from Karrol.

Red Seven said...

Oh, and pssst. "Minnelli" has two N's.

Just sayin'.

(Hi. I'm Nellier than Nellie Olson.)

Kristin said...

Look at Lance Bass: total fug and with that hot guy with the weird name....
Oddly enough, Reichen.

Can't stand the movie, but love the music and musical. Bob Fosse makes it worth watching though. Now I may have to watch this again just to match your comments.

Surprised you didn't make any comments about Max's blond mustache looking like a, ahem, milk mustache.

Michelle said...

Agreed. The "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" scene is absolutely brilliant.

Have you ever thought about doing The Producers for Musical Monday?

Michelle said...

Agreed. The "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" scene is absolutely brilliant.

Have you ever thought about doing The Producers for Musical Monday?

Anonymous said...

"The dry cleaning lady does NOT approve. Or maybe she's smiling. It's hard to tell sometimes with Germans."
As a 3/4 German, I can honestly say: it's both. :)