This 1972 musical is set in Berlin during the 1930s near to the rise of Nazi Germany. This movie focuses on aspiring actress Sally Bowles, performing in a Cabaret expressing her individuality & free-spirited nature on stage. One of the most interesting aspects of the Cabaret performance is that the female performers are caked in layers of makeup, whilst dancing and singing in non-seductive routines. It’s like it’s attacking the gender stereotypes and over-sexualisation of the female body in places such as strip clubs. This opposition to gender stereotypes is shown through the character Sally (played by Liza Minnelli) in her song ‘Life is a Cabaret.’
The lyrics used in the songs show the Cabaret club in this musical as a place of music and fun. A place people can forget about their troubled lives, as the singing man in the second song says:
“Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!
I’m Cabaret, au cabaret, to the cabaret!
Leave your troubles outside
So life is disappointing, forget it!
In here life is beautiful” Joel Grey (1972: Musical)
The struggles of the German people’s lives were only starting to get worst with the Nazi’s. But a Cabaret Is a performance piece to make people laugh, which the man and Sally do well with exaggerated dance moves and clownish style makeup. The makeup can be seen as a mockery towards the majorities ideas of how women should look. The man mocks this with the women’s exaggerated makeup by calling everything their beautiful, for example:
“So life is disappointing, forget it!
In here life is beautiful
The girls are beautiful
Even the orchestra is beautifulAnd now presenting the cabaret girls!
Each and everyone a virgin
You don’t believe me
Well, do not take my word for it
Go ahead, ask her!
Haha ha ha
Outside it is winter, but in here it is so hot!
Every night we have the battle to keep the girls from taking off
All their clothing, so don’t go away, who knows, tonight we may
Lose the battle!” Joel Grey (1972: Musical)
The wording ‘even the Orchestra is beautiful’ whilst being caked in makeup is making fun of how women are expected to look in societal norms. In the Cabaret it can be seen as a place celebrating differences and sexuality, as some men dress as women, even the host is being himself having fun which wouldn’t normally be seen in the 1930s.
Though the song Wilkommen is creepy looking, it is meant to be portrayed that way to celebrate differences. If you look closely you can see the camera angles are put back in the audience, as if you’re watching the Cabaret as an audience member. This is done intentionally to get the feeling of being there. This sums up the Cabaret in general. It’s all make-believe but they’re creating a false reality of diversity and fun to get away from the tiresome outside world.
The song is empowering appreciating life for what it is, ‘life is Cabaret’ saying I’m going to enjoy life here in the moment. The first song by Sally goes upbeat to sad about her friend Elsie dying of an overdose & drinking. It shifts from musical fun to the seriousness of an overdrinking death. But even in death, Sally sings how happy her friend looked like ‘the happiest corpse I’d ever seen’. Though this line is meant to be satire comedic on the outside; but serious in other ways about her friend dying of an overdose. This connects to the opening song Wilkommen, saying have fun & sing, you only live once. An example of living life in the lyrics:
“What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the Cabaret
Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the Cabaret.” Liza Minneli (1972: Musical)
The musical fits the setting and character of Sally. It’s a surprising opening for a ‘love story’ but then again it shows there’s more to the story than that. It’s the people of society with small moments of rebellion against the prejudice; which is shown in this movie when a Cabaret audience member attempts to throw out a young Nazi but ends up beaten to death for it.
I love the LGBTQ vibes in this musical, as they weren’t represented in the 1930s at all. This is shown through some male dancers dressed in womens clothing and the host having fun making people feel comfortable at the Cabaret. It makes me sad that LGBTQ communities of the past weren’t allowed until now to express themselves without being made the butt of jokes in this Cabaret. This can be seen in the musical with differences being celebrated, but portrayed as jokes as this was the only way representation was allowed as the Nazi’s where rising. Even this wasn’t legal back then, as differences sadly were discouraged and punished under the Nazi’s reign.
‘Mein Herr’ means my man and ‘the continent of Europe is so wide and fair, needing the freedom of the open-air’. These lines show Sally is a free spirit, saying ‘you’re better off without me’ embracing her uniqueness, saying she unbound like Europe, continental & unbound. An example of her free-spirited nature, wanting to live her life in the lyrics:
“The continent of Europe is so wide, mein herr.
Not only up and down, but side to side, mein herr.
I couldn’t ever cross it if I tried, mein herr.
But I do what I can
inch by inch
step by step
mile by mile
man by man.” Liza Minneli (1972: Musical)
If you look closely Sally uses her arms more than her legs dancing, they are flailing not being seductive again going against classic leg dances found in strip bars et cetera. The theme is beauty is internal, not external which is shown as she sits on a chair, not a strip pole. The song isn’t meant to be seductive, it’s all set up to be exaggerated and her self-expression.
This music was very pleasant to listen too, it’s songs with serious meanings of living life with its fun lyrics made this musical great in my opinion.