Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Gluecklich zu sehen, je suis enchante..."

Timmy Mallett's wasn't the only word association game.
Ever-instinctively, there are certain phrases that, once heard uttered, I can't help but parry with a set reply.
Some are merely repetitions. Others are script-repeating hack-copies. Others are a little more lateral.
But, anyway. As I've said here before, my dad can't hear the word "puffin" without, self-indulgently, others-annoyingly, exclaiming: "One thing about the puffin, almost tickles me to death - he always is a puffin - but he's never out of breath..."
A Danny Baker show once entertained a caller who, entirely sensibly, could never hear a football commentator exclaim, "Ole Gunnar Solksjaer" without unthinkingly retorting: "Lah-di-dah Gunnar Solksjaer..."!
My brothers and I, similarly sitcom-rifling, can't hear, say, a parent suggesting "How convenient" without twisting it back, indignant Homer-esquely...
And whenever I'm at the bar, especially with ancient best buddy Nick, and what everyone might want is being asked, one of us is sure to Alan Partridge-ly ponder: "I will have... a pint of BITTER..."

Sad and unnecessary, I well well-know...

But these word-association instincts are something I've been pondering, since just about every train journey in Germany, when the overhead announcer would oh-so-politely invite the attention of: "Meine Damen und Herren..."

... and every single little time, I couldn't help but hear in my head the corollary: "... mesdames et monsieurs - ladees unt gentlemen..."


"Comment ca va? ... Do you feel good? ... Ich bin eure Konfrenzier... I yem yer host - und sagen..."

Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome indeed. Cabaret is coming back to Britain, a West End production opens in September, and I just can't wait.

Cabaret as a musical is as different from the film as both are from the original Isherwood books - say, the infamous Sally Bowles is just a relatively-minor chapter character in Goodbye To Berlin, and a jolly hockey sticks English bloomer in the stage-play before she and her American writer counterpart swap nationalities for the iconic film... (dropping, with them, the rosy-red-cheeks golly-goshness of "Perfectly Marvellous" and "Don't Tell Mama", with its late-verse hint at the movie's risqueness with such revelations as "You can tell my uncle, here and now, 'cos he's my agent anyhow" or "You can tell my cousin, that ain't grim, 'cos if he squeals on me I'LL SQUEAL ON HIM!"...)

The movie soundtrack seems to have been a constant in my life since pre-teen years, when it was one of the cassettes on constant rotation in my parents' car - gratifyingly alongside my other future-taste-determining tapes as The Beatles' "Rock And Roll Music Volume One" - so from the age of about ten I had Cabaret almost entirely off by heart.

Yet it wasn't until, I think, the mid-twenties that I finally watched the film for the first time, even after seeing a stage version at the Chichester Festival Theatre, starring as Sally Bowles the young woman who made a sudden name for herself as the young actress who (very frequently) stood in for Martine McCutcheon in My Fair Lady.

Then, not long after, I accompanied a friend to an early-morning showing, again in Chichester, but this time in their olde-worlde cinema, albeit only after the brass tributes had been blown outside on this 2002 Remembrance Sunday.

Surely the creepiest, most spine-tingling and heart-racing of horror films can’t achieve quite so unsettling an effect as the final bars of Cabaret the movie, the slow, faint Nazi inflections suddenly somehow implicated the viewer/voyeur?

Obvious comparisons can be made with the other Fosse masterpiece, yet only recently done-for-silver-screen Chicago, an utter joy to watch yet played for laughs, whereas Cabaret seems played for leers. While Richard Gere’s lawyer is domineering presence in the latter, all swaggering and swish, Joel Grey’s Emcee seeps through the former, somehow sinister even when at his most ludicrous…

Perhaps the one complaint I have against Cabaret is that Liza Minelli is, well, just too good. Sally Bowles is, I suppose, supposed to be a bit of desperate, deluding hoofer – yet Liza just dominates, enraptures, looks every millimetre the certain star. Her Mein Herr, a top hat and chair her only accompaniments, is simply exhausting to merely watch – much like Catherine Zeta-Jones’s breathless performance in Chicago of “I Just Can’t Do It Alone”, yet somehow, unbelievably even more physical and draining…

But, while I somehow find myself improbably humming the song itself “Cabaret” in the Tesco car park, the simply spine-chilling moment of moments in the movie is “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”, that beautiful hymn of hmmmm-ness, echoing up originally from the purest of pure voices yet unfolding itself into an evilly irresistible Nazi power-anthem before you’ve yet known it…
And the most affecting face of the film? Amid the soaring, ever-for-now-believing Frauleins, and the boys playing at soldiers, and the stern-looking leaders, you the complacent many-years-on and full-of-assumptions audience gets a glimpse of an old man, putting down his mug, suddenly and utterly disgusted by this new verve yet resigning himself hopelessly to this all-changed era, out of which he hopes soon to sink…

And yet, and yet...

While in Berlin, I saw plenty of well-to-do theatres, cabaret clubs with champagne-quaffing queues outside in the sunshine for as long as they really, really could…

Yet no Kit-Kat Club. Back to the Isherwood I go. Back to the seedy CDs. Back to the bookings.

Well – after all:

“So – life is disappointing?
Forget it.
In here – life is beautiful.
Zer girls are beautiful.
Even zer orchestra – is beautiful…!”

Go ahead – ask Helga.


Toxic said...

I seem to remember that Baker show and now can't think of Zidane without "you're rocking the boat" and Valencia "stick your head between knees and whistle up your Barcelona".

Oh and Wiltord "bum"

The Overnight Editor said...

Regrettably (or not) all my memories of "Cabaret" are overwritten by an encounter with girl from the Operatic Society at University.

[+ welcome back from planet football]

Aidan said...

I'm also a fan of the Danny Baker philosophy of reciting the opening lines of showtunes, in a way that makes each and every one sound strangely sinister...

"All I want is a room somewhere - far away from the open air - with one ENORMOUS chair..."

"Getting to know you - getting to know ALL ABOUT YOU..."

And so on.
Except he quite rightly ruled out any lines from Cabaret, because they were clearly sinister enough in the first place...

Cheers, OE, and apologies for previous preoccupations - and you're quite sure it really was a girl, not a Cabaret "girl"...?