what i watched last week

Gigi. Watched it and wrote about it last summer. Watched it again with a young visitor who enjoys classic musicals. 10/10.

The Terror of Tiny Town. I guess everyone should see it once. It’s an all-midget western, but that doesn’t fully describe the movie. It’s a western with a cast of midgets who are terrible actors. In other words, it’s not just another B-western but with midgets … it’s a bad B-western with midgets. 2/10.

Cabaret. This doesn’t really count, since I didn’t watch all of it, although by the time I got done watching the musical scenes over and over again I’d put in a few hours time. I did that for the Friday music post, where I stated that Cabaret is one of two or three best movie musicals of all time. My wife called me on that, so I tried to explain myself, and the explanation had a lot of holes, I admit. First, I limited the choices by saying the other two “best” would be whatever 30s musical was your favorite and whatever 50s musical was your favorite … say, Top Hat and Singin’ in the Rain. This artificially shrinks the field, so clearly I’m cheating. (I also made the assumption that there are no 40s or 60s movie musicals as good as the above.) So I adjusted my claim. I told my wife that Cabaret was the best movie musical of the last 40 years, 70s-today. I said I wasn’t counting concert films like The Last Waltz. Off the top of my head, and admitting I’m not an expert on musicals of the past 40 years, I couldn’t think of one better than Cabaret. The IMDB users have Cabaret ranked as the 25th-best musical of all time, and 9th since 1970. Most of the more recent musicals that rank above Cabaret are either Disney cartoons or Bollywood productions. I haven’t seen most of them, so my opinion is even more flawed (although the one Bollywood film on the list I have seen, Lagaan, is a favorite of mine). So when I say Cabaret is the best movie musical of the last 40 years, remember I’m ignorant about Disney and Bollywood. #281 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Play Time. It’s an odd week for “what I watched.” There’s a repeat movie, a cult classic crapfest I watched for no apparent reason, a movie I didn’t really watch, and now this one. I don’t care for Jacques Tati … have seen Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle and begrudgingly gave them each 6/10. I rented Play Time based on its status as the 88th-best film of all time according to the They Shoot Pictures site … and it sat on my desk for more than two weeks, because I couldn’t get myself to actually watch it. Finally, I stuck it in the Blu-ray player and settled in. It looked very familiar. I checked back on the Netflix site, and sure enough, I had rented it last September. I didn’t rate it, so maybe I didn’t finish it. I knew right then I wasn’t going to finish it this time, either, since not watching it once was enough. So no grade for this one, although if you love Tati, you probably love this one.

random friday, 1972 edition: cabaret

Some of popular music’s most important artists released albums in 1972, with classics from All the Young Dudes to Young, Gifted and Black. It was the year of “Burning Love” and “Coconut” and “Goodbye to Love” and “Superstition.” Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won the Grammy for Record and Song of the Year, while Helen Reddy won Best Pop Female Vocal for “I Am Woman” (and, in one of those stupid selections the Grammys love so much, the Album of the Year was The Concert for Bangladesh).

And here I am, amidst all that goodness, writing about a movie musical. And I’m not writing much, because the video links tell so much of the story on their own. Suffice to say that I think Cabaret is one of the two or three best film musicals of all time, and I’ll forgive Liza Minnelli anything because of her Sally Bowles.

Having said that, I’d say the biggest problem with Cabaret comes from the casting of Minnelli. She is divine, of course, but perhaps too much so … it takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept Minnelli as a third-rate cabaret artiste in the Kit Kat Klub. Oh well, I can handle it. (For some reason, none of today’s YouTube links allow embedding, so links is all you get.)

Mein Herr

Some of Cabaret’s songs have become inspirational classics, but the truth is, the songs are a depressing lot:

Maybe This Time

The songs are ironically funny at their brightest:

Money, Money

But they are never able to lift the characters out of the pit within which they live: Germany during the rise of the Nazis. We’re not talking “Springtime for Hitler” here.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

The Nazis are taking over, and the cabaret is losing its ability to offer escape (if, indeed, escape was ever possible). When Sally sings that life is a cabaret, she’s talking about a third-rate cabaret filled with Nazis. She thinks of Elsie, “the happiest corpse I’d ever seen.”

(Life Is a) Cabaret

Cabaret was never a part of that god-awful tradition, the “rock musical” … it isn’t Hair, it’s not Jesus Christ Superstar, not Godspell or Grease. But I would argue that it was very much in line with certain strains in the rock music of the day. Its themes of decadence, bisexuality, and artificial glamour connect it to Glam Rock. Lou Reed, no stranger to decadence or bisexuality, came out with Berlin in 1973, and it sounds nothing like Cabaret, but addresses some of the same themes (arguably in a more ham-fisted manner). No matter. Cabaret is a lot more powerful than The Concert for Bangladesh.