I rented Cabaret
last friday because I was in the mood for some mindless entertainment, and an MHC professor mentioned to me once that it was similar to Chicago
. FINALLY watched it last night.
Well, sad to say that I didn't ask her to be more specific. While, yes, thematically, stylistically, and musically Cabaret
are indeed similar, while the latter is a guilty pleasure, the former constitutes one of the worst emotional drags I've seen on film in recent memory. Nothing like watching people burn the candle at both ends while fascism takes over to lift the spirits, you know?
I wish I were still in school; there're a bunch of papers to be written about the two films. For, while Chicago
is sardonically post-feminist and borderline misogynistic, Cabaret
is far more sympathetic. Both movies star a woman who is trying to sleep her way to the showbiz top, but while Roxie has to get away with murder (crime of passion, possible psychosis) before achieving her dream, you see Sally thinking it over and making a conscious choice of career over family and domestic life. Liza Minelli's performance of the title song
on the heels of her abortion and breakup with the sexually-confused Isherwood-ringer Brian (no way it would've lasted had she gone through with it, anyway) is beautiful, emotionally pure, and, heck, even feminist.
But too bad my feelings for Cabaret
aren't all positive. Because there's also the Emcee
. Need I say more? *cringes*
Actually, yes I do. His reflected closeup is the first shot of the entire film, and from that point on, watching his many performances made me feel like I was witnessing a train wreck in progress. Now, I'm in no way implying that Joel Grey's performance wasn't absolutely brilliant and deserving of the awards he's won for it.* But I can't remember the last time I saw such a stereotypical and pernicious cinematic depiction of a homosexual character. It's not enough that the Emcee be middle-aged, ugly, hideously made-up, effeminate, and cross-dressing; there's also a profoundly sinister undercurrent to the character. Never mind that, had he really existed back then, the Nazis would've cheerfully shoved him into an oven (or something similarly gruesome and final)--I got the distinct impression from the film that the Emcee is willfully and knowingly complicit in their takeover of Germany.** At the very least, telling people to forget about the real world and leave their troubles behind encourages a kind of know-nothing attitude amongst his audience, but then (and this just made me want to hurl) during a performance of the Nazi propaganda song "The Future Belongs to Me," there is a brief shot of the Emcee smiling malevolently edited in. Urk.
*Everything else afterward that Grey has done is a whimper in comparison to Cabaret. Anyone else notice that he was on FOX's House a few weeks ago?
**In fact, I found the 1998 revival performance of the opening "Willkommen"...and, sure enough, there were serious and significant changes to the Emcee. Naturally, the dirty old pervert look is gone (replaced by a half-naked, buff--if still campy--young body). But, more importantly, the Emcee in the new version seems much less sinister. Given the Joel Grey alternative, I think a naive (or possibly just over-confident) dupe of a regime that will soon attempt eliminate him and his way of life is eminently preferable.