I like to show Cabaret to my students. The film is deftly deceptive in presenting songs, characters, and images that appear sympathetic but are in fact deeply flawed. The scene in the beer garden, where the Hitler Youth serenade the patrons, is homage to Casablanca’s “Marseillaise” sequence. It looks like a grass roots awakening of hope, but the lyric reveals that it is the anticipation of the spoils of war that brings the beer drinkers to their feet. Immediately thereafter we see the rascal MC, Joel Grey, in a new light: the devil.
When the unrepentant Sally Bowles sings the title song at the end as though it were an anthem to freedom, we’re sorely tempted to forgive her impatience with love and obliviousness to suffering, and to agree that “Life is a Cabaret, old chum”, until Bob Fosse's camera reminds us of the Nazis and the gathering storm.
Watching this wonderful 1972 film now, we see no daylight between Liza Minelli and the character of Sally. They've lived exactly the same, each in her own generation. We mustn't judge them for giving into their demons or escaping into hedonism from worlds gone mad. But we can wish they'd found and held onto something that doesn't fade to black.