Confession - when I was in college, I was obsessed with the Broadway revival of Cabaret which starred Alan Cumming as the emcee. I listened to the soundtrack lots, I may have acquired some footage of the production, I just loved it. The tone, the approach, the update on the music, all worked for me, in a way that made, and still makes unfortunately, this movie musical a disappointment to me. It's just too "seventies", I guess, to appeal to me as a realistically, gut-wrenching portrayal of these people who cling to their craft and their lifestyle in the face of such horrors. And ultimately pay the price for it. So everything in my review most likely reflects my inner comparison between the revival and this version. But it was interesting for me to watch this movie, knowing I love the story and the music, but I just don't really like how they brought it to life in the movie.
The casting of this movie was great generally though. Liza Minelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey bring the characters to life wonderfully. I do kind of wish there was more for Joel Grey to do too - he's really a wonderful actor. The part where I'm a little iffy on this movie though, is in the editing. It's very abrupt, there's lots of weird close-ups, and an artsy way of shooting people who are completely, unnaturally still. I think a more realistic take on the story, would have been much more effective. The songs that are sung in the cabaret sometimes reflect what's happening in the plot, and the rising tension with the Nazis, so that is very clever, but again, I wasn't thrilled by how the scenes would move back and forth between the stage performance, and some shots of what was happening outside. The story takes a nightclub and makes it a microcosm to reflect what is happening in the real world, but it all felt too choppy and artificial. It was hard to really sympathize with the characters because of this.
In my mind, I'm also comparing this to Chicago, which I think also takes that sort of vague premise of looking at the world through the eyes of a performer/performance. And Chicago is just so much slicker and full of more emotional impact for me. I think this Cabaret is very much a product of it's time.
So in summary... meh. I would really like to see a new version of this musical as a movie. Preferably with Alan Cumming as the Emcee - I think it would come off as so much more devastating and darker if it was done now. And it would be brilliant. This is a great musical, but I really don't have a lot of love for the film.