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Comparitive Essay Goodbye To Berlin And Cabaret Fiilm

1527 words - 7 pages

Both Isherwood’s classic text ‘Goodbye to Berlin’, (1939) and its modern appropriation ‘Cabaret’ (1972) directed by Bob Fosse are set in 1930s Berlin and explore the value of decadence, resulting in the insidious rise of Nazism. Writing in a post WW1 and mid-Depression context, Isherwood reveals how diminished economic circumstances and political instability of the Weimar Republic gave rise to an increase in sexual freedom, yet also to anti-Semitism. In addition, Fosse’s film influenced by the 1960s social revolution, also explores decadence – showing this themes universality, yet presents a more critical, shifted view of Nazism due to retrospective hindsight of the Holocaust.
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Isherwood’s subtlety further expresses how Sally’s decadent lifestyle transforms the notion of traditional morality, with shallow values of wealth and career opportunism. In a reflection with Chris, Sally admits “if only I could get a really rich man as my lover…I shouldn’t want more than three thousand a year and a flat, and a decent car” with the syndeton “and” revealing the extent to which Sally uses sexual favours as a means of survival. Isherwood further condemns Berlin’s decadence through suggesting its role in the city’s subsequent deterioration into an apathetic society bereft of meaning and purpose. When exploring the possibility of a life with “millionaire” Clive, Chris sees himself occupying a “glassy” and “ill-defined position”, creating a solemn image of detachment from society in an illusionary world of wealth and excess. Therefore, Isherwood is critical of Berlin decadence, exploring the role of hedonism in society’s moral decay, ultimately creating a bleak façade of fulfilment.

Similarly, ‘Cabaret’ portrays the value of decadence to reinforce Isherwood’s notion of detachment from unpalatable reality, yet more graphically through the film medium, providing an emphatic message about the dangers of disillusionment in 1930s Berlin. During the 1960s & 70s America experienced a social revolution where sexuality was more broadly accepted. However, this decadent culture was accompanied by the 1970s financial crisis, in which the Hollywood musical genre offered escape. Fosse uses the KitKat club as a symbol not only of Berlin’s hedonism, but also as a representation of any escapist world, seemingly produced in times of economic hardship. Cabaret’s opening, a crescendo of diegetic sounds featuring enjoyment within the club and the distorted close-up image of the MC’s bizarre and shocking reflection in a mirror, establishes this theme of illusions. A sense of indulgence is evoked through the sinuous and sensual choreography of the dancers, combined with their provocative costuming - short skirts & fishnet stockings. Moreover, the MC’s mantra “leave your troubles outside” and the dancer’s concealment of truth (their gender) through layers of decadent makeup, introduces the Cabaret as a setting of escape through enjoyment and ‘fun’, contrary to the club’s dark lighting which suggests these pleasures are simply glossy veneers of a disillusioned ‘distorted underworld’. Through the appropriated characterisation of Max, Fosse, like Isherwood, traces the connection of such decadence with moral corruption. This is particularly seen through the scene of Max’s introduction to Sally in which a brief shot of his expensive automobile is immediately cut to the knowing leer of the MC as he reiterates the word “money”. This cross-cutting to the disturbing MC portrays Berlin’s decadence as a construct of social disorder and conveys Sally’s corrupted attitude towards wealth where it embodies a seductive quality of success. Fosse highlights the...

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