It has been at least three months since I first watched Cabaret and the ending of that film still haunts me. It’s such a contrast compared to the opening of the film: light, cheery, carefree, exciting, dazzling, exhilarating. How it got from point A to point B is the rest of the film. I’m so intrigued by the beginning and end of the film that I decided it would be a perfect choice for my first post in my series: A Close Look at a Scene.
THE OPENING SCENE
Let me begin by saying first and foremost: I absolutely love Bob Fosse. Granted the only other film I have seen of his is All That Jazz but personally I think if you’ve seen one film and you love it, that director is for you. That is the case for me with Bob Fosse and Carol Reed. The film opens to a black screen with white font, sans music, introducing the players. Once “CABARET” appears, there is the faint sound of chatter. Eventually the black begins to lighten up to establish the setting of the movie. Even as it lightens it is very disoriented but we can assume from the chatter, the clinking classes, and the reflection of well-dressed people that we are in a bar or a restaurant. The pace of the people’s reflections is very slow, almost dreamlike, blurry, indistinguishable. But then a band starts to warm up; we hear a piano, a saxophone, a trumpet, and drums. The disoriented reflection starts to turn from black to color, fittingly right after the mention of Technicolor. Then a drumroll begins. It starts low but gets louder and louder, hitting its peak once the title: “Berlin 1931” appears. *CLASH!* Popping out from the bottom of the frame in normal speed, our Master of Ceremonies (played by Joel Grey) appears. It is pretty startling if you’re not expecting it.
Slowly smiling, he begins to turn his head away from the reflection and starts to sing right at us. After a few lines he then steers his direction to the audience in the cabaret. We are now spectators of this show and from what we saw it is not all going to be crystal-clear. Fosse further clarifies us being a member of the audience by tilting the camera upward, looking up at the Master of Ceremonies, and by placing the camera in the back of the room. The Master of Ceremonies gives us a very elaborate welcome with flashing lights, a wonderful catchy song, and beautiful girls but asks us to “leave [our] troubles outside.” He establishes the basics of the film, telling us that he will be “our host” and ultimately will guide us throughout with film with a series of skits and songs that will coincide with the happenings in Sally and Brain’s lives. Even this song parallels with Brian’s life as we see through cuts that he is arriving in Berlin.
This world in the cabaret contrasts very much with the real world as Fosse shows with shots of heavily make-up’d people verus the ordinary people on the street. It is only concerned with fun and laughs, and that is about it. The crowd is very interactive with the Master of Ceremonies and seems to enjoy his sense of humor. The rhythm of the cuts and the music creates a very elated mood. The camera quickly pans back and forth while the Master of Ceremonies is introducing all of actors of the cabaret as if it is trying to grasp all the excitement and wonderful chaos of the cabaret. Especially at the end of the opening number, you can’t help feel intoxicated by the dancing and showy glamour of the cabaret. I would say that our host did an excellent job at welcoming us into the world and cabaret of this wonderful film.
THE ENDING SCENE
It begins right after Liza gives her fabulous performance of “Cabaret.” Again, we are greeted by the Master of Ceremonies through the reflection of the wall expect this time there is a bold, blood red reflecting in the background rather than people in the cabaret. He asks, “Where are your troubles now? Forgotten! I told you so.” and so on with his usual clamor. Expect that our troubles are not forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies voices lacks that quality of excitement that made us so elated in the beginning. The drum is dull and the band sounds like it can’t keep the same bounce as before. There are no flashy lights this time, no shots from the crowd; it’s like we’ve woken up from a bad hangover and now are just surveying the reality. But we realize that even the girls are moving slowly, just like the beginning. The music begins to dim and we hear the ping of a tinny piano while recapping different performances from the film. Then it stops and we see the Master of Ceremonies once again. He says goodbye in two different languages, each time sneaking closer and closer to the curtained door. Then he quickly bows and runs through the door. The bright lights instantly dim and then we are left with a dim light left on the curtain. The light and camera begin to glide to the right and a drumroll begins, however its meaning is completely opposite from that of the beginning. The spotlight dies once it hits the reflecting wall, leaving us with the reflection. There is no more flashy, showy fun; we must face reality. And our Master of Ceremonies, the one who said he would guide us, skipped out on us as if saying, “Well this is your problem; see ya.” What we see in the reflection is reality: the inescapability of Nazi Germany. The drumroll continues until the camera ends at a space on the wall where it isn’t completely warped. We see more than clearly a Nazi solider and even more so the red Nazi armband on his shoulder. *CLASH!* Freeze frame. Credits begin to role. No exit music. The end.