How and Why Bob Fosse Transforms Key Elements of “Goodbye to Berlin” in “Cabaret”
Transformation allows for a re-interpretation of a text from a different perspective. The relationship between the composer, responder, text and context are integral in this metamorphosis. Christopher Isherwood’s novella Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and Bob Fosse’s film Cabaret (1972) demonstrates this, Fosse transforming Goodbye to Berlin’s key ideas about the rise of Nazism and the corrupting nature of money into his own artwork, Cabaret. Christopher Isherwood Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin portrays the rise of Nazism, focusing on the brainwashing of children and the anti-Semitic attitudes of many Germans at the time.
The indoctrination of children had a significant role in the rise of Nazism, illustrated when Christopher sights a young “child of about five… marching along all by himself with a swastika flag over his shoulder and singing ‘Deutschland uber alles’.” This literally refers to the Nazi Youth and other right wing organisations that were having increased influence at the time. Whilst Isherwood’s tone is objective, he gives the reader insight into the easy manipulation of the young. The rise of Nazism is also conveyed through the anti-Semitic attitudes, seen in the “Landauers” chapter. The intense hatred and discrimination towards them is evident in Frl. Mayr’s conspicuous detestation of the Jews: “This town is sick with Jews. Turn over any stone, and a couple of them will crawl out. Filthy thieving Jews”. This metaphorical exclamatory language clearly conveys her loathing with the powerful adjectives conveying a common German attitude as a result of the constant Nazi propaganda. Bob Fosse’s film Cabaret similarly portrays the rise of Nazism, and the indoctrination of both youth and the general public. This is particularly evident in the Beer garden scene and the final scene. Fosse transforms Isherwood’s portrayal of the rise of Nazism to reflect the post-World War II context in which the film was created; the beer garden scene demonstrates the role of children and national pride in the rise of Nazism.
Isherwood’s portrayal of the role of children in the Nazi movement is transformed by Fosse in his later, retrospective context to also include national pride as a key reason for the Nazis success with the German people. Thus, he transforms the idea to make it more comprehensively relevant to what happened. Fosse’s decision to shoot this scene in the country represents how the Nazi party spread beyond the main cities, as no one tried to stop them. This musical scene opens with a close up on the face of the young Aryan boy sweetly singing, ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’. The slow panning of the camera shows the audience that he is a member of the Hitler Youth. The use of this young boy highlights how naive and innocent children are, and how easily susceptible they are to brainwashing. This patriotic song lulls the diegetic audience into a false sense of security as the music becomes strident and they get caught up in euphoria. The diegetic audience, now standing and singing in full voice represents the many people who stood by as the Nazi party grew. The gradual change from a pastoral sounding song to a nationalistic one clearly portrays how the Nazis used propaganda about national pride to gain popular support. The song’s climatic words “The morning will come when the world is mine, tomorrow belongs to me” is accompanied by a medium shot of the uniformed Hitler Youth boy, his right hand saluting, as he becomes the salient image.
The final scene of Cabaret also focuses on the rise of Nazism. Isherwood’s belief that increasing anti-Semitic views accompany the rise of Nazism is transformed to include hatred of all outsiders. This transformation stems from the novella and film being created in different context. Because of this Fosse is aware of how many non-Germans and even Germans who were different were persecuted. This is particularly evident in the final scene of Cabaret which focuses on the Nazi party’s growth, and its ability to get rid of whoever they disliked. In contrast to the beginning where there are no overt Nazis present in the audience, the film closes with the distorted reflections of the diegetic audience, many of whom are Nazis. This highlights their growth and how they ended up taking over the Cabaret. The denouement is somber. The mc (Joel Grey) interacts with his audience: “Where are your troubles now?” The rhetorical question with the close-up on his face forces responders to empathise with the plight of all Germans. The mc does not say “goodbye” in English, as he had done in his introduction, but simply, “Auf Wiedersehen, a bientôt”, then bows, thus saying goodbye to the good times in Germany, which is symbolic of his death and that of the others too.
Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin portrays how all aspects of society are corrupted by the power of money. Money is extremely powerful, as it can control many people; whom will willingly change and act a certain way in return for it. The Troika is a decedent cabaret, which is desperate for clientele, and by extension, the money they bring. It is ever changing its façade, which is evident when a customer finally arrives: “In an instant, the Troika was transformed”. Initially, the girls who worked at the Troika “were tired and bored”. Their behavior suddenly changes once ‘money’ arrives, as they “turned on their stools smiling a not-too-direct invitation”. The imagery and alliteration emphasise how easily people can be bought as well as the duplicitous nature of the cabaret and thus the society it represents. Thus, Goodbye to Berlin emphasises moneys ability make people willing to change in return for it. Fosse’s Cabaret emphasises the corrupting nature of money, particularly during the song “money makes the world go round”, which is a light-hearted testament to the fact that people will do almost anything for money. Money has a corrupting value; people will adhere to obscene ideas and values if dependent enough. Fosse transforms Isherwood’s value of the power of money. It is transformed into a musical piece as a result of the 1970s context, and the love for musicals during this era, as well as the cabaret being a microcosm of the society and Fosses wanting to emphasise the corruption of money in Berlin. The medium shot as the mc and Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) sing “If you haven’t any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter” portrays why it was so easy to be bought by others. The repetition of “money” throughout the song highlights its importance in everyday living, because without it “you look thirty pounds underweight”. Cabaret obviously illustrates the corrupting power of money in distorting ideas and behaviors.
Isherwood, in 1939, demonstrates his awareness of the massive power of the Nazi nationalistic movement and its potential danger; he attributes its success to national pride and indoctrination. He cannot, in 1939, know the horrors that bellowed in the subsequent six years of World War II. Fosse, in 1972, with the benefit of hindsight and the full knowledge of the events of those six years, is able to be much more comprehensively analytical of the period and the extraordinary growth of Nazi strength and popularity. Fosse’s filmic transformation of the earlier written text coveys Isherwood’s ideas and values powerfully to a more modern audience through memorable visual images and music. The transformation from the novella to film allows the responder to gain insight into the society ruled by the Nazis as well as the power of money and its corrupting nature.
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