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on May 6, 2003
This is a very good movie, although deeply disturbing. Set in the great city of Berlin in 1931, a time of economic depression and political crisis, this movie constructs an image of the decadence and delusion of the late Weimar period as German society is plunging through a kind of moral and social decay into the nightmare of Nazism.
The film is based on "The Berlin Stories" by Christopher Isherwood (written between 1935 and 1939), who lived in the city in the early 1930s. He had seen both the decadence and the dangerous hunger for a kind of national "purification" among many "respectable" and "moral" middle class Germans, who already had been traumatized by military defeat, hyperinflation, and mass unemployment. The film, following Isherwood, weaves together the stories of the marginal characters who live in this troubled city at the very edge of the great moral catastrophe of the 20th century.
Liza Minnelli is brilliant as "Sally Bowles", an Americanized version of the British Sally who appears in Isherwood's book, and her energy (and visible angst)drive the film as other characters wander aimlessly through a narrative heading all the time towards disaster. Michael York is effective as "Brian", the fictional stand-in for Isherwood himself, and the other characters present believable and even moving representations of people wandering through the impending nightmare as through a fog.
The nightmare itself is suggested by the increasing visibility of the Brownshirts and the sinister swastika, the authentic posters and grafitti from the period, and the passing visual allusion to the street fights and storm troopers. These allusions effectively evoke the sense of uneasiness and danger in the air, an effect reinforced by Sally's deep desire to scream her heart out. The smug and complacent self-assurance of the conservative aristocrat Maximilien, played by Helmut Griem, provides a clue to the almost wilfull blindness of even (perhaps especially) educated Germans to the moral danger posed by the Nazi movement. The anti-Semitism of the movement is also effectively displayed from several angles, most movingly through the love story between Fritz and Natalia.
But the strangest character is the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, played brilliantly by Joel Grey. His character has a sinister ambiguity; is he mocking the Nazis by his farcical musical satires, or rather is he reinforcing the anti-Semitic prejudices of his audience through such pieces as, "If you could see her as I do . . ."? Is his decadence ignoring the danger and plunging his head like an ostrich into the sand, or is it a critical commentary on the pseudo-morality that worries about cabarets while ignoring Nazis? By the way, the entertainment at the movie Kit Kat Klub is first-rate (far, far better than the actual entertainment at the real Kit Kat cabaret, according to the later testimony of Isherwood, commenting on Liza Minnelli's performance). But this Bob Fosse-choreographed spectacle underlines both the brilliance and the moral danger of the cabaret.
In historical fact, most Berliners were not Nazis; it was a largely working class town with strong Socialist and even Communist neighborhoods and a powerful left-wing tradition (which is why Hitler hated Berlin). But it was not immune to the Nazis. The Nazis themselves liked to contrast the supposed "healthy" vitality of a romanticized rural and small-town Germany against the decadence of urban Berlin, a point that is made in the film when young Nazi youth leaders at a beer garden lead an increasingly Nazified crowd to join in song celebrating nature and the volk. The film effectively plays out the irony of this contrast between a "moral" rural Germany increasingly drawn to the appeal of a profoundly immoral and murderous movement, and the "immoral" decadence of urban Berlin, many of whose cabaret performers would probably wind up in concentration camps within a few years. Hitler, after all, was big on public "morality." It's just that this kind of "morality" didn't stop him from screaming hatred, fanning murderous resentments, murdering millions of Jews, and plunging Europe into the most catastrophic war in history. Cabaret performers, however otherwise decadent, could not be blamed for that. And decadent Brian even manages to get into a fist fight with some Nazi Brownshirts.
This is a great film. It doesn't tell you what to think about the Emcee, or poor yearning but lively Sally, or even Brian himself. But whatever their tales, we know where the story is going. We know what those brownshirts and swastikas mean when we see them reflected in the glass at the end of the film. "Life is a Cabaret," as Sally tells us in her climactic song, but even the best shows sometimes have the darkest endings.
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on January 7, 2003
It's often been said about old musical movies that they went too far in the conceit of people "bursting out in song" during a scene. Well, in his film version of Kander & Ebb's masterful Cabaret, Bob Fosse completely got around that problem by presenting the songs on stage. It was handled brilliantly, the choreography was incredible, and the movie just plain works.
Cabaret the movie doesn't share many songs in common with the original stage version - it still has "Willkommen," "Two Ladies," "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," a German version of "Married," "If You Could See Her," and "Cabaret" - but that's it. A few new songs were added - "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time," "Money, Money," - but for the most part it's a lot less sung than the staged version. A lot of musical numbers dealing with the world outside the Kit Kat Klub were used as underscoring, preserving John Kander's great tunes. But this doesn't detract from it being one of the best filmed musicals out there.
Fosse's direction is a big help; it has a great eye for early 1930s Berlin, and presents the decadence and foreshadows the Nazis brilliantly. Fosse created great, sensual choreography for the film, and it is completely entrancing to watch the musical numbers. And the rest is worth it, too.
Flipflops aside, the couples are presented well; Liza Minelli's portrayal of Sally Bowles is definitely the acting part of a lifetime. She was just completely *convincing* as Sally, from end to end. Michael York as Brian is very reserved, very British, and very studied. Helmut Griem is entirely convincing as Max, who creates tension between the couple after befriending them. The secondary couple is played to perfection by Fritz Wepper and Marisa Berenson, as opportunistic Fritz Wendel who falls in love with the rich young Jewess Natalia Landauer, respectively. And, of course, Joel Grey is spectacular as the haunting, Puckish Emcee.
In general, this movie presents itself as a stunning revelation to viewers of a story that will stick around for a very long time. It's a virtuoso interpretation of one of the greatest American musicals, and deserves to be seen.
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on March 7, 2004
While this is probably not a bone of contention with most viewers, I think it's worth noting for those that do pay attention to these things, especially if you base your purchases on them, as I did in this case. The packaging on this newer DVD edition of "Cabaret" states that it is an anamorphic transfer (i.e. "Enhanced for Widescreen TVs"). It is NOT. This is the SAME disc as before, with new a label on it.
They merely changed the packaging, I guess, so that they could mention "Chicago" in the description on the back cover and tie it into the heat for that film. Shame on you, Warner Bros. We all work hard for our money and deserve better than to believe we're buying a new anamorphic transfer, when you are really marketing the exact same discs as before.
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on January 1, 1999
Bob Fosse's mesmorizing movie-musical "Cabaret", winner of eight Academy Awards, is a landmark in American cinema. The always-wonderful Liza Minnelli gives a "truly terrific" performance, earning her a Best Actress Oscar, and proves to us that she really is "a most extraordinary person." Emcee Joel Grey lulls the viewer into his seedy underworld of "divine decadence" and never lets go, earning him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The brilliance of Fosse's work is best exemplified through the intertwined plots and music, creating a dark portrayal of pre-war Berlin. As a musical, "Cabaret" is tops. The dynamic songwriter/lyricist team of Kander and Ebb brings us a terrific score of music that is brought to life by the exciting Liza. The opening number, "Wilkommen" brings us into the Kit Kat Club and keeps us there until Minnelli's showstopping swan- song "Cabaret." Other highlights include Liza's Ditrich-esque "Mein Herr" with the subtle, yet captivating choereography of the back-up Kit Kat Girls, Liza's "Maybe This Time", Liza and Joel's "The Money Song", and Joel Grey's raunchy "Two Ladies." Each time I watch the movie, I am again taken into the Cabaret and revisit the lives of the engaging charaters. The movie is chalk-full of messages and symbolism and I have yet to find all of them. Performances of all the actors, including the underrated Michel York, Helmut Griem, and Marisa Berenson, are top-notch as well. The movie has great touches of comedy, displaying Liza's great timing and expressive faces. Some memorable lines include Liza's Sally Bowles frankly telling York's Brian Roberts, "I am a most strangely extraordinary person, you know," and Brian complementing Sally on her singing talent: "You know, you really are very good!" Sally: "I know darling, isn't it wonderful?!" The subtle exchange between Sally, Brian, Fritz, and Frauline Natalia Landaur is a scene that is good for a juicy chuckle as well. However, "Cabaret" turns out to be no laughing matter when the horrors of Nazism become fully realized, which makes the characters, especially the starry eyed Sally, retreat further into their own worlds. (This is a grown-up Sound of Music, folks.) "Cabaret" is a definite winner. As a movie, its a stunning cinemagraphic mix of drama and comedy; however, the comedy is overshadowed by the dark subject matter. As a musical, it is one of the best. Whether on stage or screen, "Cabaret" is outstanding, but what else would one expect when he combines the music of Kander and Ebb, the direction and sizzling choreography of Fosse, and the talents of Grey, York, and Miss Liza Minnelli? Why, a Cabaret of course!
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on September 1, 2003
I too had great expectation of this reissue and the main reason I purchased it was for the stated anamorphic enhancement which it definitely is not. With all the interest in Kander & Ebb at the moment, this was a perfect opportunity to revamp a truely classic movie and address the poor transfer of the original issue. Warner are clearly just jumping on the promotional bandwagon with little concern for the value of the movie itself. This is Liza's finest moment and a critic's dream of cinematic metaphor and construction- it deserves better than this. It saddens me to think that it is unlikely to be issued again- the best Warner can do is recall this rerelease and do the job properly. I now own three versions on DVD- the region 2 uk release is even more washed out than the USA issue!
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on August 5, 2011
The same cover from 2004, but hidden by a new sleeve. Released again in 2008. On the the cover the claim, "enhanced for widescreen TVs". Shame on you Warner Brothers. You've repackaged the old release which was not (and is not) enhanced for widescreen TVs. Now I have two copies with black bars on all four sides. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice... It won't happen again, until the word hits the streets that a Warner Brothers Release is truly anamorphic, I won't buy. Bad business move. Very Bad.
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on March 19, 2004
CABARET is one of the greatest movie musicals ever. I adore it. It is flawless, IMHO.
Why, then am I giving it one star? Because, as others have said, Warners should be ashamed of themselves. This is not the first, but the SECOND release of this movie in a non-anamorphic transfer. I bought the original and was mighty p****ed because it was non-anamorphic. I thought they would have honored this magnificent film in the "anniversary" release. But no. It is, as stated by another reviewer, the same disc as before, in terms of picture quality.
On a small TV you won't notice. But if you care about these things, then believe me, this release sucks big time. As did the first one.
I'm angry, not at being ripped off (I sent this one back for a refund) but because a wonderful work of art has been abused by a greedy, careless film company. And I have been robbed of the chance to see the film in its glory.
Having said that, nothing could improve the truly dreadful sound quality - which was terrible from day one.
I don't suppose there ever will be another release of this movie. What a terrible shame.
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on February 24, 2013
Cabaret fans can at least rejoice that there is now a vastly improved home video product available (the old dvd wasn't even anamorphic). To clarify a few things that fellow reviewers have said: this is indeed a hi-def product. The film is very gritty and grainy-looking...it's supposed to look that way. The bluray is good and grainy; as things should be. Don't be fooled by those who think Cabaret should somehow look sharp and pristine as modern films--it should not! It looks exactly the way it was meant to look. As for the sound--the audio masters were lost long, long ago. What we have here is a stereo recreation using available materials. Some have said this makes the movie sound "tinny" or compressed. Actually, on my sound system, it sounded very clear and realistic. This is not booming surround sound from a modern action film...it sounds like you're sitting in the Kit Kat Club listening to the numbers as they are performed. Very, very good job on this. There is one new extra for this bluray release; it is a 1/2 hour documentary. This one reunites much of the surviving cast including Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Bob Fosse's daughter, some of the Kit Kat dancers and others. Most of the conversation and anecdotes revolve around the life and work of Bob Fosse. This new doc is presented in hi def. Dvd extras and docs have been ported over. Overall, I give this bluray release five stars: it is exactly how Cabaret should look and sound and be preserved for generations to come.
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on August 19, 2003
The 2003 DVD re-release of Cabaret is just a re-packaging of the original DVD. Though the new package details state that it is "enhanced for 16 x 9," this DVD is a non-anamorphic, matted widescreen presentation. So if you were thinking of trading up to this new edition of Cabaret for your new widescreen TV, hold on to your money. I was not so fortunate. I now have two copies of Cabaret with lousy transfers. Whats up with Warner? They screwed up the release of Giant also. This film is a classic and deserves better treatment.
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on August 31, 2003
What a huge disappointment this 2003 DVD reissue is. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen, which basically means that the letterbox bars are part of the image signal. HDTV owners with 16:9 sets will be most affected, but anyone who plan on upgrading to HDTV anytime in the future should avoid making this DVD a part of their permanent library. People with newer-model, higher-end standard definition TV's will also be negatively impacted. Why did Warners go to all the trouble of reissuing this classic without doing a better job?
The film itself is one of the finest musicals ever made. If you're a fan, consider renting to get your Cabaret fix. If you feel you must buy it, plan on selling this edition at a future garage sale when the next reissue comes out.
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