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Cabaret: the Perfect Film for Trump’s Changing America

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I watched the 1972 musical film Cabaret. The film, based on the 1966 broadway musical could be a metaphor for the transformation of the United States under Trump.

The film and musical are set in 1931-32 Germany, the end of the Weimar Republic, the end of democracy, and the coming of the race based dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Joel Gray, plays the very dark character of the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, reprising the role he played in the original stage musical. Liza Minnelli plays the role of Sally Bowles, an American expat selling her soul as a cabaret singer in order to become a famous actress. She becomes a lover of Michael York who plays Brian Roberts, a PhD candidate from Cambridge working in Germany as part of his degree studies, as well as Helmut Griem who plays the wealthy conservative baron Maximilian von Heune. Eventually the relationship of the three dissolves under the clouds of homosexuality, bisexuality, dishonesty, lies, abortion, and Sally’s hedonistic lifestyle in which she sacrifices everything about herself to become a movie star.

Finally, Sally drives Brian away, and he returns to England, while she ends up alone chasing her dreams at the Kit Kat Club, even as the Weimar Republic dies and the Nazis come to power.

I guess the most frightening part of the movie as how the film shows how ordinary people went from opposing the Nazis to supporting them. The opening of the film shows a Nazi being thrown out of the club by a bouncer, who is then set upon and beaten to death by other Nazi SA thugs.

Gray, who plays the Master of Ceremonies, is a very dark character who bends with the political winds goes from mocking the Nazis to a willing stooge, Griem, who plays the conservative Baron, hopes that the Nazis and Communists will fight it out, and that the conservatives can then control the Nazis. In a subplot, Fritz Wepper, who plays Fritz Wendel, a Jew who has moved to Berlin and been passing himself off as a Protestant, falls in love with Natalia Landauer, played by Marisa Berensen, a wealthy  Jewish heiress, who does not know that he is a Jew. It is only when she tells him that their love cannot survive because she is Jewish and he isn’t, that he realizes the extent of the lie he has been living. He ends up admitting that he is Jewish and they get married just before the Nazis seize power. Since this is a fictional work, we can only presume that the Landauer money, extorted from them by the Nazis helped get them out of Germany, but with the specter of the Holocaust looming one cannot say for sure.

In one part of the film, Max takes Sally and Brian on a road trip. They end up stopping in a rural Biergarten where a young man begins what initial seems like a very innocent song, called Tomorrow Belongs to Me” which is taken up by almost everyone in the audience. While it was a song written by the Jewish writers of the play and film, John Kanzler and Fred Erb, and was never an actual Nazi song it has become a Neo-Nazi anthem.

 

The sun on the meadow is summery warm.
The stag in the forest runs free.
But gather together to greet the storm.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
The branch of the linden is leafy and
Green,
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea.
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
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
Tomorrow belongs  to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me

Meanwhile in Berlin the Kit Cat Club is adjusting to the rise of the Nazis. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song entitled If You Could See Her Through My Eyes in which he dances a waltz with what turns out to be a gorilla. The words and the song are haunting, as the audience, now more accepting of Nazi anti-Semitism laughs and cheers.

After returning to Berlin Sally and Brian are exposed to the pro-Nazi words and beliefs of their fellow boarding house residents. Brian argues against them but they have fully bought in to the propaganda put out by the Nazis.

I know what you’re thinking
You wonder why I chose her
Out of all the ladies in the world
That’s just a first impression
What good’s a first impression
If you knew her like I do,
It would change your point of view-
If you could see her
If you could see her thru my eyes,
Maybe they’d all understand…
Why don’t they leave us alone?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you,
Is there a crime to fall in love?
Can one ever choose where our heats lead us?
All we as is ‘Ein bißchen Verständnis’, a little understanding!
Oh, I understand your objection,
I grant my problem’s not small;
But if you could see her thru my eyes,
She wouldn’t look Jewish at all!

After the break up with Brian, Sally return to the club and performs the song Cabaret. She has abandoned everything for the sake of her career. The song is a complete abandonment to the moment, and encourages the audience to ignore the reality of what is going on.

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!
Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow your horn
Start celebrating
Right this way your table´s waiting.
What good´s permitting some prophet of doom?
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret , old chum!
So come to the cabaret!
I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared for sordid rooms in Chelsea
She wasn’t what you call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.
The day she died the neighbors
came to snick her
Well, that is what comes from
Too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I´d ever seen
I think of Elsie till this very day
I remember how she´d turned to me and say,
What good is sitting all alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
And as for me
HA
And as for me
I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I go………
I’m going like Elsie. 
Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
It´s only a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!

But the words and visuals of then ending of the film are the most chilling. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song where the video shows the transformation of the audience. First the imagery shows no Nazis, then one, the a room full of Brownshirts as the MC signs:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

It reminds me of today, where in our entertainment culture we are encourage to ignore the reality that surrounds us. We are descending from a Republican form of representative democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship, and sadly most people would rather be bystanders waiting to see which way the wind will blow. Our media, entertainment, and yes even our insatiable need to fill our lives with the material wealth of the world, even if it means surrendering freedom.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich, and member of the White Rose resistance movement wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I would rather be like Sophie than Sally, the Master of Ceremonies, or Max.

If you have never seen the film I encourage you to watch it, as we are in the midst of such a situation in our own country. History May not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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