It took me a while to decide on which Soundtrack album to pick for this particular Draft Round. I initially considered the stunning soundtrack for the 1962 epic film Lawrence of Arabia , composed by Maurice Jarre. My parents had the soundtrack album, and I loved the music years before I finally saw the film upon its theatrical re-release in 1971 (back then, movies could be seen only in theaters or on TV). But when thinking about whether I’d want to listen to an entire instrumental soundtrack on a desert island, I changed my pick to Cabaret , which happens to be the first soundtrack album I ever purchased, after seeing the film as a teen in 1972. Not only is Cabaret a great film, I also think it’s one of the best film soundtracks, and a fun listen from start to finish.
Released in 1972, Cabaret was directed by acclaimed dancer and choreographer Bob Fosse (whose first film as director, Sweet Charity , was a flop). It stars Liza Minnelli as American singer/nightclub performer Sally Bowles, Joel Grey as the androgynous and flamboyant emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, and Michael York as a sexually conflicted English writer and teacher. The film is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb, which was itself adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel The Berlin Stories , and the 1951 play I Am a Camera . The story takes place in Berlin during the waning days of the Weimar Republic in 1931, when the Nazi Party was rapidly gaining power. Only a few numbers from the original stage musical were used for the film, with Kander and Ebb writing new ones to replace those that were discarded.
Because the film contained – for the time period – a considerable amount of sexual innuendo, profanity, references to both heterosexual and gay casual sex, anti-Semitism and abortion, it was initially given an X rating, but later re-rated “Restricted”. Despite those early roadblocks and controversy, the film went on to win eight Academy Awards – Best Actress (for Liza Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (for Joel Grey), Best Director (for Bob Fosse), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Original Song Score and Best Film Editing – and still holds the record for most Oscars earned by a film not honored for Best Picture. (The film had the unfortunate timing of being up against the masterpiece The Godfather.}
Unlike many typical musicals where the characters often break out into song in various random settings, Cabaret is really more a drama with musical numbers, all but one of which is performed on stage in the Kit Kat Klub nightclub. As such, the musical numbers are what is known as diegetic, in that they’re used to tell the story narrative through their lyrics. All of the songs are fantastic and memorable, but I’ll touch on some of the highlights. The delightful opening track “Willkommen”, sung by Joel Grey as emcee, welcomes us to the Kit Kat Klub and sets the tone for the film, which is ‘enjoy your life today, because we never know what tomorrow may bring’: “Leave your troubles outside. So, life is disappointing, forget it. In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful.”
The hopeful torch song “Maybe This Time”, sung by Liza Minnelli, comes relatively early in the film, and addresses Sally Bowles’ hope that perhaps this time she’ll have success at romance with Brian. The song became one of the signature tracks in Minnelli’s repertoire.
Another favorite is the hilarious “Money, Money”, a song celebrating hedonism and all the joys that having a little money can bring. Minnelli and Grey’s vampy, over the top performance and on stage chemistry is delicious to watch and hear.
The one album cut not sung at the Kit Kat Klub is “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” a song that begins as an uplifting ballad extolling the beauty of the German countryside, then transforms into a Nazi anthem celebrating the German fatherland as it enters a new and greater future.
And of course, there’s the wonderful title track “Cabaret”, which appears toward the end of the film. The song sums up once again what the film is about, as Sally Bowles emphatically urges us to live life to the fullest as everything falls apart around her: “I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie, with whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea. She wasn’t what you’d call a blushing flower…As a matter of fact she rented by the hour. The day she died the neighbors came to snicker: ‘Well, that’s 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. / Start by admitting, from cradle to tomb, it isn’t that a long a stay. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, It’s only a Cabaret, old chum. And I love a Cabaret.”