Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Fritz Wepper, Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson
Director: Bob Fosse
Summary: A young writer gets mixed up with a pleasure-loving singer in the decadent world of 1930’s Berlin
Other Nominations: Director*, Actress (Minnelli)*, Supporting Actor (Grey)*, Adapted Screenplay, Musical Score*, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Film Editing*
-Liza Minnelli & Joel Grey are both pretty fantastic-Minelli is a ball of fire when she needs to be but can also be sensitive in those moments too. Her singing and stage presence is perfect for what the movie was going for (even if I don’t agree with the producers 100%, more on this later). Looking back at who else was in the Best Supporting Actor category for 1972 (see: Pacino, Al), I was surprised that Grey won the Oscar (and most of the other awards for the category), but there’s no denying he’s great for the role (which is an interesting one, as you learn essentially nothing about his actual character, only what he does in front of an audience.
-For the time, this was a very unconventional musical and kind of redefined how a musical could be successful in an era when audiences were tired of the classic movie musical. All the songs are diegetic, the tone is downbeat and feels much more realistic, and there’s only 9 songs (which are generally really good); they restructured the entire musical in adapting it to a film, taking out a dozen songs (the ones that weren’t diegetic), adding new characters, etc. and it works well. Ultimately, it doesn’t really even feel like a musical at all and is almost just a straight drama with a couple of musical interludes that are pulled way-back from the big flashy numbers most musicals had.
-I liked the relationship arc between Minelli and York’s characters, as they stayed true to the characters themselves throughout and it ended like it should have (although the whole “Minelli turns him from gay to bisexual, or at least Minelli-sexual” thing was odd, but I guess it could happen in real life maybe?).
-I wouldn’t say it’s his fault (even if I don’t think he’s that great and maybe could have made it better), but York’s character isn’t all that compelling, either in or out of a romantic setting. I know he needs to be the more grounded character vs. Minelli’s, but other than “he’s British, bisexual and doesn’t like Nazis or being cuckolded”, there’s not much I can say about him. I would have been much more interested in their relationship (which is at the core of the whole movie) with a more interesting lead male actor or character.
-One significant difference among the many from the stage version is that here, Minnelli’s character Sally Bowles is extremely talented vs. her being not all that great in the stage version. Minnelli’s great and everything and is the best thing, but her character being mediocre makes her more interesting-her being a dreamer who keeps trying to make it big but doesn’t have the talent is better than “why isn’t this character a bigger star, she’s amazing.”
-While a modern viewer would say “of course The Godfather won Best Picture, how could it not?”, anyone watching the Oscar ceremony that year would have been stunned after Cabaret won 8 Oscars going into the Best Picture announcement (including Director which is usually the highest correlated to BP, Actress, and Editing, another award that often correlates) vs. The Godfather that had only won for Actor and Screenplay (two big awards, but 8 vs. 2 is a big difference). 8 Oscars without Best Picture is still the record.
This was a huge departure from the classic musical and was an indication where the genre would be heading towards in the future. If you don’t like musicals, give this one a try as it’s quite different and has some great performances and songs even if some of the story elements could have been better.