Sunday, November 08, 2009

Screen Queens: Sally Bowles

MattCanada here with another week of homo classics. Since I started writing this weekly column about a month ago, I have focused on films which have not been Oscar contenders and not featured the actresses which Nathaniel, me, and all the readers of this website respect (read: worship in a cult-like fashion). So on to Cabaret!

Liza Minnelli's Oscar winning role as Sally Bowles may well be the gayest Oscar win of all time. Now I am not a big Liza fan, actually I actively dislike her in anything else, but in Cabaret she gives one of the most amazing performances in the history of cinema in the greatest movie musical of all time. Not to be hyperbolic or anything, but Liza's Sally and Cabaret are earth shatteringly good. Liza is hardly the only reason to love Cabaret. You can get almost as much pleasure out of Joel Grey and Marisa Berenson's performances, as well as Michael York's Dietrich-esque bone structure. The Kander and Ebb songs are musical standards by which all other songs should be judged, and Bob Fosse's direction is flawless and endlessly inventive. The costume design, art direction, cinematography and editing are all incredible*. All of this make Cabaret one of those rare films where all of its components brilliantly fit together.

There are two recent Oscar wins that I want to compare to Cabaret and for different reasons. The first is the Best Picture win for Chicago. The film takes so much from Cabaret that it would be inconceivable visually without its superior precedent. The most blatant rip-off (or homage depending on how you see it) is "When You're Good to Mama" complete with the dancing behind the curtains from the end of Sally and The Host's performance of "Money Makes The World Go Round".

"Money Makes the World Good to Mama"

Both films are based on Kander and Ebb musicals, and therefore they have similarities which evince the auteurist credentials of the songwriter and lyricist. To a certain extent the seminal importance of Cabaret makes it unavoidable for Chicago to heavily reference it, but the visual similarities from Marshall's to Fosse's film are there. Chicago's Best Picture win, and its heralding of the return of the musical, can in many ways be seen as a celebration of Cabaret's brilliance.

The second recent Oscar win for which Cabaret provides a useful comparison is Jennifer Hudson's Best Supporting Actress win for Dreamgirls. Liza Minnelli's performance is musically flawless and provides two showstopping moments, the Torch Song "Maybe This Time" and the iconic closer "Cabaret". Jennifer Hudson's performance in Dreamgirls is musically astounding and her rendition of "And I Am Telling You (I Am Not Going)" is the highlight of the film. However, the difference lies in the performances which surround these musical moments. While Liza combines comedy, melodrama, and pathos in the service of conveying the the complex range of human emotions, Hudson can barely deliver her lines in character. Hudson deserved a Grammy, a performance like Liza's deserves the Oscar.

<--- 'beedle dee dee dee dee, Two Ladies': Michael York and Helmut Griem

and Liza's Sally have become an ineluctable part of gay culture. Cabaret is the first critical and commercial success to deal with homosexuality in an understanding and mature fashion, making it a part of the texture of the film.

Its importance for the post-Liberation gay community of the Seventies I can only guess, but its continued reverence in gay culture would indicate that it was pretty important. Recently Kristin Chenowith performed "Maybe This Time" on Glee, showing the continued cultural cachet of Cabaret and its appeal to a gay audience (Glee + Chenowith + Cabaret is as camp as it gets).

"Maybe This Time" through the years. With Kristin Chenowith, Liza
Minnelli and Natasha Richardson

While most Oscar wins for Actors playing gay characters are solemn and maudlin enough to make a funeral or Senate Hearing seem enjoyable, Liza brings humour and gravitas to a performance which is a highlight of gay cinema and the pantheon of Best Actress winners.

Lady Lucky: Liza won the competitive Oscar that had always eluded
her legendary mother Judy Garland 'The World's Greatest Entertainer'

*Editors note: Cabaret holds the record of the most awarded movie to have ever lost Best Picture (the 1972 winner was The Godfather) winning an incredible eight Oscars, including three of the big six. Strangely, it was not nominated for costume design. Star Wars and A Place in the Sun are the runners up with six Oscars each.


Victor S said...

To think Rob Marshall chose Renée Zellweger to play Roxie when he could have had Kristin Chenowith is just painful.

Anonymous said...

I just love Natasha Richardson's version of this song. It's so powerful.


Victor S -- don't remind me! I think Renée is good in the picture (in the book parts) but musicals should have musical talent. See also: Toni Collette who Marshall did want at one point.

Jacob Lives said...

Another place pissing over Jennifer Hudson's Oscar. Whatever, she won and nothing's gonna change it. I think she deserved it, and in that field, she would be an easy first choice. I'll freely admit that it's not remotely in the same field as Liza tho. Sally Bowles is iconic, and Liza will never top that performance.

Hardy said...

Was the ragging on Hudson really necessary?

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Hudson clearly earned her Oscar, whether you want to admit that or not.. I mean she won it 2 years ago nothing you can do to take that away from her..

Rich Aunt Pennybags said...

Victor S -- don't remind me! I think Renée is good in the picture (in the book parts) but musicals should have musical talent. See also: Toni Collette who Marshall did want at one point.

I would have loved to have seen either Toni Collette or Kristin Chenowith instead of Renee Zellweger. There was a time that I really loved her as an actress, pre-Chicago, but it seemed like the neurosis of the media commenting on her weight from Bridget Jones plus winning the Globe and the SAG, may have caused her to flip out because even though she seems like a really nice person still, I find the performances I've seen of her post-Down With Love lacking.

I think I would like My One and Only if I had time when it was here during its one week from the way the local reviewer waxed about it and Zellweger's performance, so hopefully she'll win me back as a fan.

I didn't really mean to say all that about Zellweger, I just stopped by to let you know that Gwyneth Paltrow has replaced Charlize Theron in The Danish Girl. I don't really know how I feel about that. I think you like Paltrow, but I just don't think she's going to be able to keep up with Nicole Kidman at all. Paltrow can be a good actress, but I just don't see her in the same league as the Nicole at all. I'd have rather seen Toni, one of the C/Kates, Naomi, or even my personal choice Samantha get in.

(Mostly I just wanted to see how much Morton would backtrack over some previous statements she said about Kidman after Kidman was cast in Fur since now she seems to be all nice about Kidman and agreeing with her stance with there being too much violence against women in movies. I love her, but I always wonder what her career would be like if she played the game more and/or got totally sober.)

Alex said...

Liza's performance as Sally Bowles has always been one of my favorites, probably my fourth favorite Best Actress performance of all time when I think about it (Streep, "Sophie's Choice"; Bancroft, "The Graduate"; Taylor, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?") It's just so perfect. It's probably good Judy had passed before Liza won for this...she would've strangled her daughter. Yeah, I just said that...and you know it's true.

For about a whole week after Natasha Richardson's death, I had the 1998 recording of "Cabaret" on loop on my iPod. She'll be missed :(

Anonymous said...

I recently watched this film again and it is amazing to me how well it still holds up. I guess it is because the recent musicals have not been as good (with a few exceptions) but it is still a wonderful film.

Lara said...

Why are some of you getting so upset over Matt's dissaproval of JH winning an Oscar? We all have our favourite and not so favourite Oscar wins and I happen to agree with him on this one. Why shouldn't we be able to voice our opinion?

Sweet Natasha Richardson. Wonderful performance.


@Alex. ha! oh, poor Judy. This would be among my top best actress performances too. I should do a list. But first I want to finish watching all the winners. Yes, there are some i haven't seen yet.

@Jacob & Hardy... I didn't write this particular post but as I've repeatedly said here it's possible to love JHud (I do) while also not thinking she's an actress at all. I was so frustrated that the movies distracted her from recording for awhile. Her voice is her gift.

@Jon. every time i try to just watch one scene of this movie I end up watching several. definitely one of hte best movies ever made.

mrripley said...

I have to say i prefer liza in new york new york.

mrripley said...

oh and jhud what a weak field 2006 was so i am ok with her win - blanchett had hers and was a lead,breslin was plain ok,kikucki was frustrating only barrazza gets my vote.

2006 supp actress

jennifer hudson
adriana barazza
emma thompson
emily blunt
jill clayburgh

Jacob Lives said...

Well, plenty of people think that Jennifer Hudson's acting is fine (including myself), and there was no need to piss all over her talent just to prop up Liza Minnelli's.

Alex said...

With the Best of 2000 post, you said you wanted to do a retrospective of the decade as it closes. I'd love to see a post on Top 10 Best Actresses of the decade.

Victor S said...

I would love to see more footage of Judi Dench playing Sally Bowles in the West End.
There's so little on YouTube and she does a Sally that fells totally different from Liza's.


Alex ask and you shall... hey, wait a minute! i gotta stop promising stuff. there's so little time.

Chris Na Taraja said...

OMG if you play all the "Maybe This Times" at the same time, Liza comes in last, but I think she wins!

Anonymous said...

Kristen's performance of 'Maybe This Time' is stunning. Her voice is just sooo amazing and she's such a cutie.

But doubt, Sally Bowles BELONGS to Liza, who gave the second best Leading Actress Performance of ALL TIME. It was just breathtaking and it drives me wild with desire. She definitley deserved that win.

Also, The Host? Uh...have you seen the film? The Emcee....

With Roxie, kristin would've had the talent, but I think she'd a little old for that role, even with how amazing that is. Toni Collette, on the other hand, would've been FANTASTIC. THAT performance could've won the oscar. I also think Toni would've been a fantastic choice for The Danish Girl, as well as Morton. I also think Winslet would've done well. I don't think Paltrow will deliver what Kidman will, but we might be suprised.

..But on Kidman, she'd on a ROLL! With Rabbit Hole and Danish Girl next year, she could take home another oscar. I'm wondering though with The Danish Girl, if they'll push both lead or Paltrow in supporting and Kidman in lead or vice versa. We might have a Winslet in 2008 situation where they like one better than the other and even though, say, Kidman was pushed lead for Rabbit Hole and supporting for The Danish Girl, she gets nommed for Danish Girl in lead? Who knows... But it's lovely to see Nicole back in form. I can't wait for Nine :)

And don't bag Jennifer Hudson. There is no deniying her performance is brilliant and that song was fanmtastic. I don't think JHud and Liza's performance have a thing in common. Also, it may be sad that I'm staright and I love Cheno, Glee and Cabaret - but they're fantastic.

And also, do you think Crazy Heart will do well NAT? I could see a Bridges nom and if its great a Gyllenhaal, Screenplay, Picture Nod and Song.

R.I.P Natahsa Richardson.


anon it's never sad when straight people love musical theater moments.

straight people used to love musicals as much as gay people (how else were musicals once blockbusters in the way action/effects movies are now?) and unfortunately something changed.

Musicals forever!

jimmy said...

im straight & i like musicals very much....maybe because my father loved them. he always had some sountrack playing - he liked the mikado (?), south pacific, my fair lady. he liked 7 brides for 7 brothers when it was on tv. i have the new south pacific on my iPod - sometimes i think the overture is just one of the most spectacular pieces of wonderful music.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear it Nat. I'd love to ssee mor eof your thougts on musicals, as your insight is fantastic.

JIMMY: Hot Mikado? That's a great one.

My five favourite movie musicals would have to be (in no order)

- Cabaret
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- The Wizard of Oz
- Singin' in the Rain
- West Side Story

Billy D said...

I just realized that Liza is wearing a Celia Birtwell print/Ossie Clark dress in the last photo--strangely anachronistic.

Anonymous said...

Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity