An iconic, incredibly stylish study of the hedonism and sexual ambiguity of pre-war Berlin, Cabaret was a huge, multi Oscar-winning hit for choreographer and director Bob Fosse in 1972 and made Liza Minnelli a star.
Often described as a musical for people who don’t like musicals, it sets its scene in Berlin during the 1931 Weimar Republic, against a backdrop of increasing antisemitism and the growing Nazi Party. Loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical by Kander and Ebb, itself adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin, it follows Brian (Michael York), a new British arrival in the city, as he befriends Sally Bowles (Minnelli), a talented performer at the risqué Kit Kat Klub – with whom he navigates the decadence and nihilism of a city on the brink of war.
Full of brilliantly choreographed set-pieces, Cabaret influenced generations of filmmakers and remains a key queer cinema film with its early exploration of bisexuality on screen. It is also still a vibrant and incredibly singular musical, with its focus on the dark heart of 1930s Berlin centred around a truly fabulous performance from Minnelli as Bowles, evincing both exuberance and vulnerability as she wields glamour against despair.
This film is one of our Staff Picks! Read on to find out what HOME’s very own have to say…
Musicals! HOME Staff Pick: Suzanne Smith, Usher (Front of House team) and Bookshop Assistant
“Do you like your musicals to be escapist and uplifting? Well tough luck because this one’s about the creeping rise of the far right. And it’s fantastic.
It’s also about drag, gender, fluidity, performance, violence, glamour, the terror of feeling wholeheartedly and the impossibility of an apolitical position. Importantly, it also features the best fringe in musical cinema.
Set in 1930s Berlin, the whole thing looks utterly glorious yet is fully steeped in the horror of what’s to come. Allow yourself to be weirded out by Bob Fosse’s tight, awkward, slightly frightening choreography. Delight at the dead eyed, unsmiling women with sexed-up-Pierrot makeup and unpleasantly sequinned shorts. Lose yourself in the decadence, the friendships, the sex and the foreboding. Wish you could really, really belt out a secret song about the things that terrify you and everything you wish for.
Go and see Cabaret. If, by the end, you don’t want to do a strange dance, wear a silky nightgown and fight fascism with every bone in your body then I really do despair.”
Screening as part of BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery, BFI Film Audience Network and ICO.