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Cabaret

The Polish poster for the film

1,886 words

Bob Fosse’s 1972 film Cabaret is supposed to be propaganda for Weimar decadence and against Nazi brutality. But the film utterly fails as propaganda insofar as it changes no minds. In fact, Cabaret is more akin to a diagnostic tool—like inkblot tests or gestalt images—for distinguishing between fundamentally different human types: people who love beauty versus people who love ugliness, people who love order versus people who love chaos, people who love health versus people who love decadence.

Just as some see a goblet and others a pair of profiles, just as some see a duck and others a rabbit, some see Cabaret as a celebration of decadence and others see it as a case for National Socialism. Most of the latter, of course, do not embrace or condone National Socialism themselves. But once the movie is over, they can at least understand why millions of Germans did so.

This is why I include Cabaret in my pantheon of Goebbels Award laureates—namely Hollywood films that Joseph Goebbels would have released unaltered—including such titles as Quiz Show, Storytelling, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink.

Cabaret is set in Berlin in the early 1930s, just before the Nazis came to power. The titular cabaret is the Kit Kat Klub, which is upheld as the epitome of Weimar culture, as indeed it is. But what do we see on stage? Is it a new image of man’s highest potential? Is it a vision of a perfected society? Nothing of the sort. It is merely a parody and inversion of the existing culture and its values, including its sexual mores, martial ethos, and aesthetic standards.

The music is jazz of the most irritating type: brassy tuneless farts and raspberries over a monotonous, herky-jerky beat. The singing is tuneless and brassy Broadway caterwauling. The musicians are ugly women and female impersonators with exaggerated and grotesque clown makeup and skimpy costumes revealing sagging, ravaged flesh. The MC, played by Joel Grey (born Joel David Katz), is leering and sexually ambiguous, with ghastly yellow teeth.

The stage shows include ugly women wrestling in mud, bondage and sadism set to music, a bawdy burlesque in which dancers in German folk costumes slap one another’s asses, females and female impersonators mocking soldiers, a song about a ménage à trois, and a song about miscegenation, in which the singer pledges his love to a gorilla but ends with the words, “But she doesn’t look Jewish at all.” It is pure cultural Bolshevism from start to finish.

The main character of Cabaret is Sally Bowles, a singer and aspiring actress. Sally Bowles was English in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, the Ur-text of this and other adaptations. But in Cabaret, she is an American because, well, Liza Minnelli couldn’t play her as anything else. I have not read Isherwood’s original, so I can’t tell if Miss Minnelli does his character justice. Let’s just say that if Sally Bowles is meant to be a mediocre singer with a potato face and potato physique, such that her aspirations to be a great actress are a pathetic delusion, then Minnelli nails the part. Her attempts at glamor are laughable: an unfeminine bowl-cut, clown makeup, and gaudy thrift store rags, to say nothing of her braying speech, gawky mannerisms, and mannish gait. When we first see her on stage, she looks like a cartoon mouse pretending to be a dominatrix.

Sally’s motto is “divine decadence,” although it may simply be a brand of nail polish. Her philosophy is pure hedonism. Anything goes, “as long as you’re having fun.” She smokes, drinks, and fornicates with abandon. Her goal is to become a star, or be kept by a rich man, by sheer dint of schmoozing and whoring and faking it till she makes it. She’s a phony, a social climber, and a parasite.

But under all this, surely there beats a heart of gold.

No, not really. Not at all. Sally is selfish, immature, insensitive, rude, and neurotic. We are supposed to feel for her because she pines for her neglectful father. (There is no mention of a mother.) But feeling pain doesn’t make you a good person. In fact, bitterness over festering wounds is the most common excuse for monstrous behavior. Strip away Sally’s gaucheries, neuroses, and machinations, and you won’t find a little rosebud of sweetness. You’ll just find a howling void of nihilism.

Minnelli’s songs all have mediocre music and lousy lyrics. Her catchiest number, “Mein Herr,” is about being a hypergamous gold-digger. When she meets a nice young homosexual, who beds her out of pity, she thinks “Maybe this Time” it will last. Then there’s her duet with Joel Grey, “Money, Money,” which informs us that “Money makes the world go ’round,” a witless ditty in which vulgar Marxism meets just plain vulgar. (By every measure, it is infinitely inferior to ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money.”) I’ll have a few words to say about her grand finale later.

The basic plot of Cabaret is that a young homosexual Englishman, Brian Roberts (Michael York, looking conspicuously wholesome), comes to Weimar Berlin. He finds lodging at a rooming house full of bohemian types, including a streetwalker and a pornographer who both turn out to be Nazis, as well as Sally Bowles, who is right across the hall.

The strait-laced (though gay) Englishman meets the brash American in clown makeup, and an unlikely friendship begins. Sally introduces Brian to the Kit Kat Klub, finds him work translating pornography, offers him her room for teaching English lessons, and generally inserts herself into his life, to the point of seducing him. Brian seems to sleep with her out of pity.

Once Brian and Sally are a couple, hypergamous Sally takes up with Maximilian, a fantastically wealthy aristocrat who finds Sally and Brian entertaining. He showers them with expensive presents, dangles the prospect of an adventure in Africa, beds both of them, then loses interest.

One of the most famous scenes in the film takes place as the trio returns to Berlin from Maximilian’s country estate. Maximilian has explained how the Nazis are hooligans, but useful for stopping the Communists. Once the Communists are defeated, people like Max will rein in the Nazis. As they enjoy lunch at a beer garden, a handsome blond youth begins singing. It is standard German Romantic or folk fare, with stags, forests, the Rhine, babies, and so on. Then we see that the young man is wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth. The song takes on a more martial and strident air with the chorus “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” and virtually the whole crowd joins in signing. “Still think you can control them?” Brian asks Max.

The song is pure, calculated kitsch, the product of two Jewish songwriters, and yet it is better—and seems sincerer and more real—than anything else in the film. The scene is crushingly unsubtle, an exercise in ritualistic goy-hatred. These Hollywood Nazis are supposed to seem sinister and repellent, but they are infinitely healthier and more appealing than the smug and decadent Max and Brian, much less anything on stage at the Kit Kat Klub.

The most wholesome love story in Cabaret is between the impoverished businessman Fritz Wendel and the Jewish heiress Natalia Landauer, who meet through Brian, their English tutor. Fritz pursues Natalia, but there’s a hitch. Jew-gentile relations are at a low ebb in Germany. But Fritz has a way out. He’s actually a Jew. He was merely pretending to be a Christian, because once you are a member of the vast majority in an individualistic society, people notice you and invite you to parties and cut you in on business deals. It is a farcical distortion of the truth. Crypto-Jews don’t lose touch with the Jewish community. The whole point of crypsis is to enjoy the advantages of belonging to both communities. When Fritz admits to Natalia that he is an apostate who has lied to her and everyone else, she naturally agrees to marry him. It is supposed to be heartwarming, but morally normal people find it bizarre and repugnant.

Brian and Sally’s relationship has a less happy ending. Sally is pregnant. Maybe the baby is Brian’s. Maybe it is Max’s. Sally wouldn’t dream of asking Brian to pay for the abortion, though. She’ll just pawn the fur coat that Max bought her. Brian has another idea. He proposes marriage. He doesn’t care if the child might be Max’s. Decadence doesn’t seem so divine anymore. Berlin is hell. It is a rat race in pursuit of shallow and unsatisfying pleasures. Brian sees marriage and fatherhood as a chance for both him and Sally to escape and have a normal life. He’ll teach at Cambridge. Maybe there will be other children.

Sally is touched that someone would be willing to spend his life with her. But marriage would require some changes: fidelity, for one; sobriety, for another; plus unselfishness toward babies. It also wouldn’t hurt for her to pick up some of the social virtues necessary to live in a normal community. But the biggest change would be to stop chasing her absurd dream of becoming a movie star. Sally thinks about it a bit, then skulks off and has an abortion in secret. Some viewers see a strong, independent career girl strongly and independently being strong and independent, or something. And they applaud. Healthy people see that, in the end, hedonism and individualism are just a nihilistic death cult.

Brian is horrified, of course, but probably realizes he has dodged a bullet, because Sally Bowles will never change. Besides, who would want children with her looks and personality disorders? This, in truth, is the most enlightened perspective on the matter, but the only people who would voice it in Cabaret are the hated Nazis.

Brian returns to England, and Sally returns to the Kit Kat Klub, where she sings her final song, “Cabaret,” in which she informs us that “Life is a cabaret, old chum” and then tells the story of her old flatmate Elsie, a whore who died of drink and pills and was the “happiest corpse she’d ever seen.” Then Sally vows that, instead of having a normal life, “When I go, I’m goin’ like Elsie.” It is an open celebration of nihilism. It is particularly grotesque from the lips of the daughter of Judy Garland, who was found sitting dead on her toilet, aged 47, after a lifetime of abusing alcohol and downers. Liza Minnelli herself has lived to be a ripe old chum, but one wonders how many lives were cut short because of her glamorization of a death cult.

Cabaret ends with another icky song and dance from Joel Grey. The final shot is a distorted reflection of the audience, in which we see a number of Nazi stormtroopers. Are they in the audience because they are hypocrites, dipping into the fleshpots while railing against them? Or are they there to bust up the place? In truth, it was a bit of both. Of course, the filmmakers want us to mourn the passing of Weimar. But healthy viewers see something very different, a message that Goebbels himself would have approved: Weimar was a disease. The Nazis were the cure.

The Unz Review, July 1, 2019

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11 Comments

  1. nineofclubs
    Posted July 5, 2019 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    An excellent review of a film which neatly captures the ugly decadence of liberal capitalism.

    The contemporary West is – in reality – the new Weimar. Our media is horrified by any level of state control; unless that control is directed at nationalist or identitarian forces.

    The extremist-liberal BBC lines up with right wing neo-cons to bash Venezuela, because those heartless commies in the Maduro government have allowed the supply of hormone replacement drugs (used by trannies to maintain their gender bending) to dwindle. The report says;

    ‘.. Franco, from the local non-governmental group Unión Afirmativa, says Venezuela has long had a bad track record for LGBT rights, but now it is among the worst in Latin America.’

    https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-latin-america-48810720

    I’d wager that the next wave of refugees from Latin America will be Venezuelan trans, fleeing the persecution of a state so horribly illiberal that their lady-beards have stopped growing and their hips have started widening again.

    .

  2. Posted July 4, 2019 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Brilliant review of a big budget bag of Oscars and sleaze. Back in the bad old days when I was part of the problem, back during the height of the Jewish cultural revolution, I made a date with Cabaret. I had heard of it, of course, and easily fell in love with the enticing theme song–“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come to the Cabaret”–and was determined to see the film. But for one reason or another I kept postponing that date and as a result I never saw it…until now in this masterful review. Thanks for showing me that my missed “date” back then was merely a painted streetwalker with pure poison and hate in her heart.

  3. Sursumcorda
    Posted July 4, 2019 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    If it’s ugly or vile, the Jews love it. They seem genuinely shocked when gentiles, especially white Europeans, find something like Cabaret, disgusting, ugly and worthy of rejection.

  4. Flavius
    Posted July 4, 2019 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    From my perspective, this film is unwatchable. The cabaret scenes are particularly disgusting; I sincerely cannot understand how any normal person would want to watch something like that. Did some people really enjoy those things?

  5. Whitesupremecis-mail
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Great review, reading such things on a dark corner of the net is nostalgic, such things do last. Check out Bill Gaede’s “youstupidrelativist.com” common sense critique of theoretical physics with similar cynicism

  6. J. Goodlow
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    This film was an interesting watch and I don’t think the reviewer gives much credit to the aesthetic subtlety. From my perspective, the frequent intermissions of the plot by cabaret songs seemed to suggest that the director intended the viewer to understand the plot as underscored by a play of the absurd, a “cosmic joke,” a cosmic joke including even the end of the cabaret and coming of the Nazis. The clumsy music of the cabaret interrupts any possible feeling of tragedy in the plot. As the reviewer suggests, Sally is a hedonistic void, yet a void that brings all the main characters together and sets the plot in motion. She is the idol of the cult.

    I like the idea that it is a kind of rorschach test. The vices of all of the characters are all-too-apparent so there is no suggestion presented to sympathize with any of them. The character that the viewer sympathizes most with probably reflects the viewer’s preferences, his virtues along with his vices.

    At the end, the viewer can mourn the vanishing of the cabaret if he understands the cabaret as a hedonistic, vibrant celebration of the absurd in an absurd, meaningless universe. On the other hand, he can see its disappearance as the disappearance of a rosy illusion that was preventing the main characters from earnestly coming to terms with themselves and abandoning the cult. Although it does seem like the director wants the viewers understand the ending as the former, I understood it as the latter. Nevertheless, I thought it was a decent film.

  7. Baron Nishi
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I watched this movie first back when I was a kid. Lisa Minelli’s character struck me as absolutely repellent and Michael York seemed like someone completely out of his place. Back then I didn’t know who the Nazis were, but even then I got a clear impression of the film being about sick, broken people whose spiralling lifestyle was juxtaposed against normal, healthy society represented by the young man in uniform and the singing crowd. Even though I was later informed by my parents that these were the bad, bad “brainwashed” german people, I would find myself often humming the tune “tomorrow belongs to me” on the road home from school.

  8. Freddy
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I always liked the song “Tomorow belongs to me” , even though I was aware of the propagandistic Motiv of the film. Probably more people felt that way because the song later developed a life of its own, regardless of the movie, and was translated in different languages.

  9. Wasp
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    A good friend of mine once sent me the video of this young man singing with a brief explanation for context. I have not seen the movie nor will, despite the author and my friend’s recommendation. I see such debauchery and nihilism every time I venture into the bars at night. The horrendous gay pride disgrace that walked the streets of Dublin recently shows me that Weimar may have been destroyed but that nightmare has become a reality for us. Most normies live in ignorance. Blissfully ignorant of the genocide of white goy offspring.

  10. Novo Bowden
    Posted July 3, 2019 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I thought exactly the same on my first viewing. The main characters come across as freakish neurotics, and the cabaret as ugly and vile.

    By contrast, the “Tomorrow belongs to me” song is one I keep coming back to, and I find the moment when the crowd (who were actually Germans) spring to their feet, moved by the emotion of the song, to be very moving.

    “Now Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign
    Your children have waited to see
    The morning will come
    When the world is mine
    Tomorrow belongs to me”

    Words for The Movement to live by, surely?

  11. Posted July 3, 2019 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    I am reminded of Trevor Lynch’s review of Princess Mononoke, here on Counter-currents, where he points out that a right-thinking man would see nothing but absolute evil in Irontown and good in the woodland creatures. Modern thinking, however, somehow distorts this and morally equivocates between Irontown and the forest. Maybe another one for the Goebbels list.

    Link to the review: https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/08/princess-mononoke/

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