Bob Fosse Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. - Essay

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cabaret is ultimately pretty weak schnapps. It takes the Berlin of the 1930's—the Berlin of George Grosz cartoons and Christopher Isherwood stories (on which the film was based …)—and turns it into a backdrop for a musical…. An audience today could get pimples from a story like Fritz' and Natalya's, so the sugar loaf has to be sourdoughed with Nazism the way it is in Cabaret—or leavened with a few pogroms the way it is in Fiddler on the Roof. The Czar and Hitler play approximately the same role in these musicals that leukemia plays in Love Story.

The film's heroine, Sally Bowles, is a lot like Fritz. She too is saved from herself by her own ineptness and endeared to us. She wants passionately to be a femme fatale, "a most strange and exceptional person," as she herself often puts it. But she is hopelessly miscast playing such a role in life….

Fosse demonstrates in this film that he has now learned the tricks of the movie musical trade.

The choreography that looks best on a stage often looks chaotic in a movie. On a stage the dance gestures have to be extravagant and the acrobatics spectacular. But in a film such movement goes by in a blur, especially when the camera tries to get close enough to catch the expressions of the dancers as well…. It is the camera that moves boldly and dramatically here—that exerts itself and has to be choreographed….

The restructuring Fosse has done seems to appeal to him because it allows cross-cutting between the numbers done on the cabaret stage and developments in the society outside—as if the former were a commentary on the latter as well as a part of it. The fact is that Cabaret's wistful treatment of Germany during the rise of Nazism is only a part of our own society. Cabaret is only worth thinking about as a document of our times, not as a commentary on someone else's. As an interpretation of history, Cabaret is trivial the way that all musicals are.

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr., "3.2 Schnapps," in Commonweal (copyright © 1972 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XCVI, No. 7, April 21, 1972, p. 167.