I directed Cabaret in 1971 and my main aim was to explore the nature of humans and how they behave in certain circumstances. Set in Berlin, 1931, the movie follows the lives of Sally Bowles and Brian Roberts through the struggles of living in Nazi Germany. Through the use of film techniques such as camera shot and angles, musical numbers, and repeated symbols, the viewer perceives how what contributes to the decisions people make, and how this affects their lives. The use of camera shots and angles featured heavily throughout Cabaret. I use the low angle close up frequently to establish a feeling of power or dominance.
The first musical number I wanted to be viewed from the audience’s point of view, looking up at the cabaret performers to show the performer’s dominance and create a tense, excited and somewhat sinister atmosphere. It was also used to show that Brian is new to Berlin, a stranger. I showed this by making the audience continually look down on him from many perspectives. The close up shot is also frequently used. This shot is dramatic and fills the screen with a single subject, and when focusing on a person’s face, it is used to show emotion. This shot I used mostly with Sally.
After she had her child aborted, the audience looked down at her. This combined with the fact she was wearing minimal makeup, it made her look almost child-like, showing she needed protection and emphasised the fact that she was very vulnerable. Camera focus is used to make the audience pay attention to certain details and I wanted to make the MC come to the forefront of the audience’s mind as he foreshadows misfortune or the coming of bad times. The title sequence starts with a blurry image which slowly comes into focus, and we see the face of the MC, indicating what I have just explained before.
I often used close ups, or extreme close ups on the hands of the characters. These shots are used to draw the audience’s attention to a particular detail as well as distort reality. In this movie, I used hands to symbolise the different personalities of each character at different times. In the case of Fritz, I focus on his sleeve cuffs, which are frayed and show his poverty, whilst with Sally, I focused more on her fingernails and the colour changes that happen at different times of the movie, to show she is changing or she projects a different persona for different people, which made Sally appear fake.
For example, when she went to meet her father, she removed her nail polish, which for the cabaret and most other times in the movie is vivid green, showing that she was intimidated by him. Musical numbers in the movie are very important to understanding the context. I placed these numbers strategically after certain scenes, to infer or foreshadow different events. The opening number gives you an idea of what you will be up for. It juxtaposes the cabaret with the outside world, and what was going on in Berlin at the time.
During the MC’s performance, he says “Leave your troubles outside, life is disappointing. Forget it! In here, life is beautiful”. I then panned to the audience, and you can see most of them are wearing suits, and the ladies are immaculately dressed, these sorts of people would be beginning to feel the effects of the Nazi Party. The next musical number is Money, Money, Money. This is performed by the MC and Sally directly after she meets Maximillion.
If the audience hadn’t already guessed, they are now given a very obvious clue as to why Sally becomes besotted with Max. I even an extreme close up on Sally’s face when she sings the line “money, money, money, money, money, money, money” to show the audience that this is all she wants from Maximillion. The last musical number, If You Could See Her, occurs directly after the conversation between Brian and Fritz, where Fritz finally admits to being a Jew, but he can’t inform Natalia, as she will reject him.
Even though if he did tell her, they would be able to get married, but admitting to having a Jewish background in Nazi Germany probably wouldn’t be easy. Throughout the number, the MC is singing to a gorilla, so there is quite a contrast between both of the ‘lovers’, and if this wasn’t enough to let the audience realise this song is related to Natalia and Fritz’s relationship, the last line the MC sings “if you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all” makes direct reference.
I then cut to the scene where Fritz finally reveals his ancestry, so the connection becomes quite clear. During all of the numbers, I have described, you can see that the MC is present. He also appears at certain times during the movie before or after problematic events. The MC is a symbol for fear, also a symbol for the troubled times in the movie. I brought him in to warn the audience of the events to come, and his appearance, exaggerated personality and overdone makeup, project a sinister vibe which I believe the audience picks up on and foreshadows what is to come.
Directing this film was a magnificent pleasure, and I believe my beliefs and values about Germany during the war period was brought out through the characters. I also believe I portrayed the fact that people seek the escape life’s difficulties with entertainment through the musical numbers and camera techniques used in Cabaret. Using these techniques, I also was able to explore the nature of humans and how they behave in certain circumstances and portray this through my characters.
Courtney from Study Moose
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