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Bob Fosse
Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson, Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel, Helen Vita
Writing Credits:
Christopher Isherwood (book, "Berlin Stories"), John Van Druten (play, "I Am a Camera"), Joe Masteroff (musical, "Cabaret"), Jay Presson Allen

Life is a Cabaret.

Winner of eight Academy Awards, Cabaret brings 1931 Berlin to madcap and menacing life inside and outside the Kit Kat Club. There, starry-eyed singer/actress Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and an impish emcee (Joel Grey) sound the clarion call to decadent fun, while in the streets a certain political party grows from laughing stock to brutal force. Cabaret caught lightning for Minnelli, Grey and director Bob Fosse, who shaped a triumph of style, showmanship and substance. All three won Oscars, as did cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth and music supervisor Ralph Burns, who adapted the dynamic John Kander/Fred Ebb score, with "Mein Herr", "The Money Song" and "Maybe This Time" all newly supplied for the film.

Box Office:
$6 million.
Domestic Gross
$42.765 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/19/2003

• “The Recreation of an Era” Vintage Featurette
• “Cabaret: A Legend in the Making” Featurette
• “The Kit Kat Klub Memory Gallery” Featurettes
• Production Notes
• Cast and Crew Biographies
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Cabaret (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 9, 2007)

Although usually both Best Picture and Best Director go to the same film, Oscar doesn’t always agree. Such a split occurred in 1972. Although The Godfather took home the Best Picture prize, Bob Fosse won Best Director for 1972’s Cabaret.

Francis Ford Coppola would snare his own Best Director trophy two years later with The Godfather Part II - another Best Picture winner as well - so we shouldn’t shed too many years for him here. I will say it’s too bad that Coppola didn’t get the Best Director prize for the first Godfather simply because it’s a vastly superior film to Fosse’s unmemorable flick.

Cabaret takes us to Berlin in 1931. British Brian Roberts (Michael York) comes to town to teach English to German students. When he rents a room in a local boarding house, he meets free-spirited American cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli). They become fast friends, though his apparent disinterest in women prevents them from becoming lovers.

That eventually changes, as his heterosexual libido awakens and he and Sally become a couple. We meet a few other associates as well via some of Brian’s students. He takes on wealthy heiress Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson), and aspiring gigolo Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper) – sets his target on her.

Those two eventually develop a relationship, but the focus remains on Sally and Brian – and a third member of the love triangle when mega-rich Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) enters the scene. Opportunistic Sally sees him as a ticket to stardom and a better life, so she lets him wine and dine her. The movie follows the various romantic machinations as well as the rise of the Nazis.

Cabaret qualifies as a musical, but it doesn’t fall in line with the typical entry in the genre. Virtually all of its production numbers come from the stage of the Kit Kat Klub. These may reflect the attitudes of the characters – such as when Sally sings “Maybe This Time I’ll Win” after she and Brian become lovers. However, they don’t represent the “people abruptly bursting into song” school of musical performances.

And that’s a good thing, since I’ve never cared much for the unreality found in the standard musical. Unfortunately, other than the quality of the performance numbers – which Fosse stages well – I can’t find much in Cabaret that does it for me. One complaint I often have with musicals come from the thinness of their stories. Many musicals use so much of their time to throw singing and dancing at us that they lack the room to develop plot and character.

Cabaret actually comes with fewer production numbers than most flicks in its genre, but it still doesn’t manage to provide satisfying storytelling. The tale creeps along at a glacial pace, and even halfway through the flick, it doesn’t feel like anything much has changed. Sally still comes across like a silly floozy and Brian remains a buttoned-down milquetoast. Why do they like each other at all – much less develop a romantic relationship? I have no idea, since they don’t display any chemistry or connection.

Whatever story we get lacks much intricacy or punch. The inclusion of the Nazi threat feels gratuitous and doesn’t fit the plot well at all. It seems like they’re there just to present an easy background menace. I don’t feel the Nazi elements fit with the rest of the story; they add nothing and simply appear tacked onto the framework.

Maybe there’s depth to Cabaret that I missed, and maybe if I see it again, I’ll take greater pleasure from it. Right now, unfortunately, I find it to be a big old bore. It presents some clever and well-staged production numbers, but when it focuses on characters and story, it goes nowhere.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus C-

Cabaret appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer showed its age and could really use an improvement.

Sharpness was acceptable at best. Despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement, the film usually presented decent delineation, but it never seemed better than that. Definition appeared erratic throughout the movie. Instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and I noticed some light edge enhancement as well. Parts of the movie seemed rather jittery and unstable.

At least source flaws were only a minor concern. I thought the movie looked too grainy at times, and a few defects cropped up at times. I noticed some “cigarette burns” to mark reel changes as well as a few marks and specks. Most of the time the flick seemed reasonably clean, though.

Colors were passable. The movie occasionally showed some lively and full tones, but often the hues appeared somewhat dull and without much life. I never really disliked the colors, but I found them to be a bit lackluster. Blacks were fairly dark, but shadows tended to seem somewhat dense. The end result earned a “D+” and this recommendation: Cabaret needs a new transfer.

As for the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Cabaret, it seemed mediocre. I did find the soundfield to be more ambitious than usual for a movie from 1972, though it never really excelled. Vague stereo imaging came with the music, and effects broadened moderately to the sides and rears. These elements lacked much specificity. They opened up the track a bit but weren’t terribly involving.

Audio quality was rather dated. Speech tended to be stiff and a little rough, and the lines occasionally bled to the side speakers as well. Music came across as metallic in the higher register and boomy in terms of bass. The low-end elements were louder than usually for an older flick but not presented in a satisfying manner. Effects were also lackluster. They seemed reasonably clean but failed to deliver much punch or clarity. In the end, this was a bland offering.

A few extras flesh out the Cabaret DVD. First comes The Recreation of an Era, a vintage featurette. The short piece takes us to the set and provides a discussion of the cast and characters, the locations, and director Bob Fosse’s work on the production. We also get a few remarks from actors Liza Minnelli and Michael York. Expect little substance from this quick and fluffy promotional program.

For something newer, we go to the 17-minute and 25-second Cabaret: A Legend in the Making. Created for the film’s 25th anniversary in 1997, it features notes from Minnelli, York, former ABC Films president Martin Baum, Allied Artists president and CEO Emanuel L. Wolf, producer Cy Feuer, screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, lyricist Fred Ebb, composer John Kander, and actor Joel Grey. We find out how the stage musical came into being and its path to the screen. From there we learn how Fosse got the gig as director, location scouts and the stage play’s adaptation, the musical’s songs and their use in the flick, cast and performances, Fosse’s style on the set, and reactions to the final product.

“Legend” is way too short to act as a thorough examination of the film’s production. However, it serves to give us a pretty nice overview. Some of the best moments come from various camera tests and other behind the scenes material. “Legend” adds enough good details to those elements to make it a winning – albeit too brief – program.

A collection of short interview clips appears under the banner of The Kit Kat Klub Memory Gallery. We hear from Minnelli (3 clips, three minutes, 35 seconds total), Grey (3, 2:26), York (4, 2:47), Baum (3, 5:24), Feuer (1, 1:10), Wolf (2, 1:16), Kander (3, 1:48), Allen (2, 0:34) and Ebb (2, 1:51). The participants cover too broad a spectrum of topics for me to recap them thoroughly. Suffice it to say that we learn a nice mix of thoughts related to their experiences on the film and related issues. The clips suffer from a lack of cohesion, but they’re informative and worth a look nonetheless.

In addition to the film’s trailer, a few text pieces complete the set. We get mediocre Cast & Crew bios for director Bob Fosse, screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, producer Cy Feuer and actors Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Marisa Berenson and Joel Grey. The Story provides some info about the project’s roots and On Location discusses shooting in West Germany. Kander & Ebb offers gives us biographies of the songwriters, while Awards lists the various prizes won by the film.

Cabaret’s positive reputation has endured over the last 35 years, but I must admit I don’t really get the film’s appeal. I think it offers some strong production numbers but the thinness of its story and characters makes it less than involving. The DVD comes with problematic picture and audio as well as a few moderately useful extras. While I don’t care for Cabaret, I think it deserves better than this flawed release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0769 Stars Number of Votes: 13
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