“Thank God we escaped punishment”

Sally Bowles in bowler hat and suspenders. Quickly swaying onstage, like a motorized puppet, then pausing, returning to the audience. Suddenly she turns and begins to sing. “You have to understand what I am now, Min Hare,” I began in a sultry manner. “A tiger is a tiger, not a lamb, Maine Hare.” She’s stamping her foot. She wrapped her legs around a wooden chair. The volume swells and the tempo increases.

This is just one of the first performances Lisa Minnelli did in the classic Bob Fosse movie. nightclubIt will be re-launched to celebrate its 50th anniversary this week. It’s an amazing piece of acting and singing, as Minnelli seems to channel her mother’s scorching voice, Judy Garland, while dancing in such a provocative way that Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel looks almost shy by comparison.

The decadence of the Weimar era does not come any further. Half a century later, watching Minnelli perform her tough chores and chant torch songs like “Cabaret” and “Maybe This Time” under the devilishly smiling eyes of Joel Gray Emcee still shudders many viewers.

The place is Berlin, 1931, where young Englishman Brian Roberts (Michael York) arrives in search of adventure. He moves in with Sally. What makes their high-pitched sex drives all the more poignant is the sure knowledge that the Nazis will soon be in power and that the bohemian, permissive world in which Sally thrives is about to be swept away.

Joel Gray as Emcee and Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Photo: Park Circus)

Speaking from Minnesota, where he now lives, York told me he got the role in unusual circumstances. Voss had come to London with his producer Cy Feuer to cast the film. The director stated that he was looking for a “Michael York type” to play the male protagonist, which was based on English writer Christopher Isherwood (author of the biographical novel goodbye to berlinWhich nightclub were based).

The clean young actor, who starred in Joseph Losey’s Accident and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, thought he’d be perfect for the part. “I called my agent and said, ‘Do you think I can come across as Michael York’s type? “Go – you’ll be perfect,” replied the agent.

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York met with Voss. After what seemed like a surreal encounter, the American director decided that Michael York was indeed “the Michael York type” and agreed to give him the role.

nightclub It can be considered a masterpiece today, but 50 years ago, financiers were skeptical about its prospects. former Voss movie, sweet charity, was a flop. Theme nightclub It was considered difficult. This was a movie whose main male character was openly bisexual, and whose main female character had an abortion – not generally a topic that plays well at the box office. So the budget was relatively modest. A lot of money was spent on acquiring the rights.

The shooting took place at the Bavarian studios outside Munich and on location in Berlin and Schleswig-Holstein. Many of the crew, particularly production designer Rolf Zeitbauer, were old enough to remember the Nazi era. Voss also included subtle references (“subliminal echoes,” as York called them) by contemporary artists such as George Gross. All this gave the film an originality that many other Hollywood films about the war or the pre-war years lacked.

Joel Gray and Marisa Berenson in “Cabaret” (Photo: Park Circus)

“There was a real sense of tragedy,” Marissa Berenson, who played naive Natalia Landauer, a wealthy Jewish heiress, recalls, “of what it was like with the Nazis, and what it was like behind that wall—the feeling of darkness coming. It was really fun filming there. Because you really got into the mood for that entire period.”

The film makers also paid extensive attention to the fashions of the era. Brinson talks enthusiastically about what she calls “a great period of fashion, and so much fun. Those fashions were great. Lisa had some little bits of her… [English designer] Ossie Clark”.

At first, York was not at all sure how to play his role, which he wrote in a superficial way. “I knew Christopher [Isherwood] In Los Angeles. Somehow, I knew I was playing some kind of Isherwood character… [but] The role was basically this ambiguous central character that these very extroverted characters revolve around. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I went to see Bob [Fosse] In his hotel room. I didn’t want to appear as another neurotic actor but I carried myself on him.”

While performing dance rehearsals, Voss put Minnelli and York in a room with British writer Hugh Wheeler, who was hired to rework the script. Together, they embodied the characters. “[Fosse] I kept this process of improvisation going all the way through filming…I think the whole movie has that quality — not over-rehearsed but spontaneous and fresh,” says York.

Berenson experienced stress on her first day of shooting. She was a leading model, but this was only her second film, after Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice. She was trembling to the point that her hat wasn’t fixed. In hindsight, she thinks nerves helped her perform. Virgo Natalia is the free and easy antithesis of Sally from Minnelli.

‘I pushed the envelope really hard at the time, but thank God we got away with it’ (Photo: Park Circus)

However, the actress was stunned by some of the tricks that Voss played on her. In one shocking scene, her character is the victim of anti-Semitic intimidation when she finds her pet dog dead on her doorstep. “He actually put a dead animal with all its guts flailing out on the porch. He got a reaction from me, that’s for sure! He liked to do things like that. He whispered in my ear before taking. He had his ways of making me feel uncomfortable, Which is necessary, I think, on his part.”

Everyone enjoyed making the film – but they weren’t at all sure how the audience would receive it. “You really don’t know,” York muttered.

At the event, the film received nearly universal applause, although York remembers Isherwood was upset that the main character had been portrayed as bisexual rather than openly gay. He says, “I said, ‘Chris, prepare yourself for those times.’” Isherwood notes that he did not write himself openly about his homosexuality, but instead used the perception that the narrator was an “open shutter camera.” York believes the film was “in a gritty way.” Extremely”.

He adds, “It proved its worth, but it could easily have gone the other way. This little thing on a small budget – it worked. I pushed the envelope really hard at the time, but thank God we got away with it.”

nightclub Returns to cinemas today, Friday 6 May

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