Bob Fosse Pauline Kael - Essay

Pauline Kael

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cabaret is a great movie musical, made, miraculously, without compromises. It's miraculous because the material is hard and unsentimental, and until now there has never been a diamond-hard big American movie musical…. [It] is everything one hopes for and more; if it doesn't make money, it will still make movie history.

After Cabaret, it should be a while before performers once again climb hills singing or a chorus breaks into song on a hayride; it is not merely that Cabaret violates the wholesome approach of big musicals but that it violates the pseudo-naturalistic tradition—the "Oklahoma!"-"South Pacific"-"West Side Story" tradition, which requires that the songs appear to grow organically out of the story. (p. 409)

The usual movie approach to decadent periods of history is to condemn decadence while attempting to give us vicarious thrills. Here, in a prodigious balancing act, Bob Fosse … keeps this period—Berlin, 1931—at a cool distance. We see the decadence as garish and sleazy, and yet we see the animal energy in it, and the people driven to endure. The movie does not exploit decadence; rather, it gives it its due…. The movie is never cynical (it may be one of the least cynical big movies ever made); it is, on the contrary, so clear-eyed that it winks at nothing. Though it uses camp material, it carries camp to its ultimate vileness—in the m.c.'s mockery of all things human,...

(The entire section is 573 words.)