is the first word that mention of the Weimar Republic brings to mind? Is it “decadent?” If so, that would please the National
Socialists. Although we won the war, our
popular consciousness has thoroughly absorbed this element of their
propaganda. Oddly, it even seeps into a well-intentioned
documentary tribute to Weimar’s cabaret culture. Nevertheless, there are plenty of wonderfully
elegant images and musical selections in Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir’s Cabaret-Berlin, the Wild Scene, which screens
during the 2013 New York Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by the Jewish
Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
exclusively of archival newsreels, films, soundies, and stills, C-B chronicles the emergence and
inevitable fall of the Weimar government, against the backdrop of the largely
Jewish and almost entirely leftwing Bohemian arts scene, especially the torch-singing
club performers. These vocalists were
not afraid of some political content or the odd risqué lyric. Indeed, full performances from the likes of
Marlene Dietrich, Lotte Lenya, and Margo Lion are the real attraction of C-B.
In these well selected clips viewers see them manhandle audiences in a
converted flat and thoroughly beguile a smitten Peter Lorre.
intersperses the glory of the cabaret scene with the concurrent political
developments, narrated by actor Ulrich Tukur in the style of malicious master
of ceremonies. Rousso-Lenoir’s blinders
are readily apparent here. For instance,
the role played by trade unions in the rise of the National Socialists is
scrupulously ignored and the full name of Hitler’s party is conspicuously never
used. Still, C-B conveys with maddening clarity how divided and ineffectual the
does get a strong feeling for the tenor of the times in C-B. Yet, the film somewhat bolsters
the stereotype that every artist in Weimar Germany was at least slightly
naughty. In contrast, the Jewish
classical musicians of the era, like Vienna-based Bronisław Huberman (founder
of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), surely shared similar political views
but were more aesthetically conservative.
There was some truly extraordinary music and
visual art created during the Weimar era.
It was not all produced by androgynous manic-depressives. While C-B
pays tribute to the likes of Kurt Weill, Kurt Gerron, and the Comedian Harmonists
in the closing titles, it deliberately plays on the image of Kander & Ebb’s
Cabaret. Frankly, for those of us living in Twenty-First
Century New York or Los Angeles, Weimar Germany just doesn’t look so very “decadent.” Recommended (with the reservations explained
above) for fans of Cabaret performance, Cabaret-Berlin,
the Wild Scene screens Monday (1/21) and Tuesday (1/22) at the Walter Reade
Theater as part of this year’s NYJFF.
Labels: Cabaret, Documentary, NYJFF'13