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‘Divine decadence, darling’: Photos from behind the scenes of Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’

In the right circumstances of time, place and imagination—it is possible to time travel. This was firmly impressed upon me in my teens while reading Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin. I had just moved to Glasgow as a student and was renting a room in an apartment owned by a birdlike lady who whistled music hall songs and sniffed pecks of snuff off the back of her hand. She was long retired. Renting a room supplemented her meagre state pension. Now here’s the connection: she had once been a furrier in Berlin during the 1930s and had witnessed at first hand the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. She had seen the Jewish shops vandalized and some of her Jewish friends disappear to who knew where?

It wasn’t just the fact this dear old lady had an experience of the events which I was reading in Mr. Isherwood’s book—but the flat in which I was a lodger had been untouched since the 1930s. The whole interior, its decoration, the heavy furniture, the coal fire, the carpeting and rugs, the cast iron bed, the wooden mantlepiece, the dressing table with polished vanity mirror—everything in this apartment was as it had been in the days just before the Second World War.

Only in the kitchen was there a slight capitulation to modern technology. A 1950s fridge and an electric cooker unused—still wrapped in its protective polythene. I cooked simple meals off a bunsen burner gas ring—a blackout cooker as my landlady called it. It was winter. The apartment was cold. At night I could hear, like Herr Issyvoo, the men outside whistling in the dark. Except these men were not calling up to their lovers to come to the windows but to their dogs off somewhere in the small misty park below. In such circumstances of place and time and imagination, it was all too easy to find myself transported to the decade of Goodbye to Berlin.

That snowbound Christmas I watched Cabaret on television. A multi-award-winning film version of the musical inspired by Isherwood’s Berlin novels. I must have seen that film about thirty times since. It is an almost perfect movie—story, character, sex, politics, and a powerful overarching narrative. Not to mention Liza—with a “Z”—Minnelli at the very height of her talents. Based mainly on the short story “Sally Bowles” from Goodbye to Berlin and John Van Druten’s adapted play of the book I Am a Camera, Bob Fosse’s film Cabaret brilliantly captured the world of Isherwood’s writing.

The film starred Michael York as Isherwood’s alter ego—named here Brian Roberts, Liza Minnelli as night club singer Sally Bowles, Helmut Griem as rich playboy Maximilian von Heune and the incomparable Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub.

Apparently director Bob Fosse wanted to play the MC himself but the studio insisted on Grey. The film was shot at the Bavaria Film Studios in Germany—well out of Hollywood’s reach. One day the studios cabled Fosse to say he was spending too much money on smoke for the nightclub scenes. Fosse read the telegram out to the assembled cast. Then he ripped it up and threw it over his shoulder. That was the end of Hollywood’s involvement. Fosse had been considered a risky choice as director. His previous film Sweet Charity had flopped disastrously. Away from the studio’s interference, Fosse was able to achieve what he wanted. Cabaret swept eight Academy Awards from ten nominations.
Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies.
More photos from the making of ‘Cabaret,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:41 am
Check out Muhammad Ali’s Broadway chops as he performs a number from a Black Power musical, 1969
01:34 pm

Muhammad Ali
I use the term “chops” a little loosely here. When Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing and stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 after refusing the draft, he began a lecture tour to pay the bills. Ali’s money troubles during this three and a half year blackball may be the reason so many cynical, cynical people assume his participation in the musical, Buck White was a ploy for cash, and not a reflection of his legitimate love of Broadway!

Below, you can see Ali performing the song, “We Came in Chains,” on The Ed Sullivan Show. Buck White is actually a pretty cool concept for a musical; based on Joseph Dolan Tuotti’s play Big Time Buck White, the show centers on its namesake, a militant Black Power leader who invigorates and focuses a group of radical black activists. Unfortunately, it only ran for seven performances, and full footage of Ali’s “musical talent” is near impossible to find.

Maybe if they had hired a lead with a musical background the show would be a classic?

Posted by Amber Frost
01:34 pm
‘Sweet marijuana… marijuana… help me in my distress’: pre-code movie musical number from 1934


Soothe me with your caress
Sweet marijuana… marijuana…
Help me in my distress
Sweet marijuana… please do…

You alone can bring my lover back to me
Even though I know it’s all a fantasy

And then put me to sleep
Sweet marijuana… marijuana…

Sweet Marijuana from the 1934 film ‘Murder At The Vanites’, pre-Hays code.

Posted by Marc Campbell
06:29 pm