Of course, the depiction of Cabaret's "Kit Kat Club" deserves attention all by itself. It is not surprising that a cabaret buff such as Bob Fosse took interest in the Weimar Republic period in Germany, when "divine decadence " was the name of the game. Only Bob Fosse could recreate with such consumed application the grotesque sleaze of Berlin's lowlife during the rise of Nazism, a context which served as inspiration for expressionist painters, and for Brecht's "Threepenny Opera". During the credits, check out a woman in the public with short hair and glasses smoking a cigarette (something quite dodgy in 1931!). It is the exact reproduction of a famous painting by Otto Dix.
An outrageously grinning clown (Joel Grey) introduces every cabaret number. The girls appear in all possible contorted postures keeping deadpan faces. The Kit Kat club reminds of a roman arena, where the public is out for anything insane (even women fights in the mud...). To give an idea of what sort of den the club is, Michael York finds himself at one point standing next to a transvestite in a men's urinal...The cabaret performances get all the more provocative as the plot gets tense. The club is an essentially immoral place where anything is for sale, and it adapts shamelessly to the radical political changes coming up.
Liza Minelli's character is totally at home in such surroundings. Her persona is perfectly sketched in her song "Bye Bye Mein Herr". She is the incarnation of the vamp, both heartless and ingenuous, the sort of lethal woman who drives men crazy and then gives them up like toys. Indeed, a very typical stereotype of the interwar period, think of Marlene Dietrich in "the Blue Angel"...Minelli's performance onstage with garter belts and a bowler hat still looks elegantly naughty today.
Though, the real nature of her character is well studied as soon as she gets offstage. While Minelli can't help being extravagant all the time, she turns out to be a fragile woman neglected by her father, and in demand of constant and renewed attention. As predicted in her song, she proves basically unable to engage in any serious relationship, despite her involvement with Michael York ( "And though I used to care, I need the open air, you'd every cause to doubt me Mein Herr").
The script was based a story by British writer Christopher Isherwood, called "A Goodbye to Berlin", based on his own personal memories. He is allegedly the character played by Michael York. A serious upper class young man, he meets Liza Minelli out of blind chance, while looking for an apartment to share. She introduces him to all sorts of people, from riff-raff to aristocracy, including a gigolo, a Jewish heiress, and an ambiguous baron who dismisses them both after having "played" with the two of them.
Michael York's sober performance looks a bit pale as opposed to histrionic Liza Minelli, but of course, that was necessary in order to stress the essential difference between those two strangers. The movie ends as they part on a railway platform, but one can guess their experience together will have changed them both, as as far as he is concerned, was a definite coming of age.
One of the scenes, in the middle of the movie, is quite disturbing. At a countryside inn, a young S.A man sings a song called "Tomorrow belongs to me", which starts out nostalgic but gradually turns into an infectious Nazi march as the whole crowd joins him. This unexpected number seems to have embarrassed many viewers. If Nazism had presented itself as pure evil, would it have met any success? This daring scene makes evident that it was for many Germans of the time the symbol of positive values : beauty, tradition, order, pride, future. If you didn't know how things turned out, would you not have been tempted to sing along this powerful hymn to the fatherland as you watch this? Good question to ask oneself even, or especially, nowadays...