1. INTRODUCTION GOODBYE TO BERLIN TO CABARET- A 33 YEARS OF TRANSFORMATION
‘Goodbye to Berlin’ is an episodic short novel with six parts, or rather a collection of six short stories, dealing with Isherwood’s own experiences in Berlin between 1930 and 1933, at the ending of the Weimar Era and the rise of the Nazis in a semi-autobiographical manner. It published in 1939 starting the legend ended with the musical Hollywood production ‘Cabaret’ (Fosse, 1972).
‘Goodbye to Berlin’, especially ‘Sally Bowles’ which was first published separately in 1937 were soon became very famous, both because it is an important reference to the first years of Nazi Party’s Rising and the tension of the environment with real characters and a different observer then what people can find in history books, and also because it is a reference of the homosexual capital of the world, with personal accounts –thought transformed into other characters to save the author from the charges that may arise in England or Berlin, where homosexuality was still illegal-.
‘Goodbye to Berlin’ first inspired a play in 1951; ‘I am a Camera’ which was directed by John Van Druten, which in turn became a movie under the same title in 1955. But the real success of the stories wasn’t until the Broadway version in 1966, by John Kander and Fred Ebb, which resulted into the famous, award-winning musical movie ‘Cabaret’ by Bob Fosse in 1972, with the ‘divinely decadent’ Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles.
Between these five versions, there is a big change regarding first the medium and the style of the stories, then regarding the characters –either they appear in the story or not, their sexuality, their race and the role they play in the story-line and the story itself-. But it is impossible to suggest that all these changes were realized solely because of the change of the medium the story is narrated with.
The main reason to these transformations is the loose narrative structure Isherwood used in his book. The six stories –or parts- share same logistics, some common characters and of course Isherwood as the observer and the main character, but in spite all that, turning the book into a script with a proper structure of beginning, development and an ending requires some transformation in the stories.
2. THE CHARACTERS
Christopher Isherwood doesn’t hide that he is mainly writing his own experiences by naming the main character as himself; Christopher Isherwood in ‘Goodbye to Berlin’, He also uses the first person narration to state that fact.
The main character in the stories is Christopher Isherwood, himself, or his ‘Alter-Ego’ as Hilton Als puts it. But Isherwood is not a typical novel hero, he states himself that he is not the ‘real story’, that he is mainly an observer who records the instances happening around him and he uses himself solely as a classical narrator in an Ancient Greek play, which doesn’t involve into the story, but only comments and hints what is going to happen between the stages. As he says himself in the beginning of the book: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” It is not only himself who thinks of his character as a camera, but a lot of critics like Gore Vidal and Elizabeth Hardwick characterize his work as journalistic and objective . There are some critics, like Jerry Stratton who believes his powers to transmit a story is better than of a camera, because he enlightens the details the camera cannot reveal. He is beyond a camera in showing the atmosphere and beliefs of Pre-Nazi Germany, which makes the book merit his reputation. But while transferring the book into a play or into a movie, this characteristic of Isherwood becomes a big obstacle. The easiest solution to this problem is to raise the level of the most beloved and outstanding character of the novel; Sally Bowles’ role into the main character. The romance between Sally Bowles and Christopher Isherwood that first appeared in the musical ‘I Am a Camera’ is the result of this adjustment and the need of a major love affair in a main-stream story. This also solved the problem of Christopher Isherwood’s being merely an observer. In the book, the only character that the readers cannot completely know is Isherwood, as he never describes himself or his personal traits and doesn’t talk much about his own personal life, but only talks about himself in the context of the interesting people he met. Hence the reader can only see his character traits through the dialogues that he forms with these acquaintances. The character of Christopher Isherwood is more of a mystery in the way he portrayed in the book, but if one keeps him that way in a stage production or in a film, he cannot even have a proper minor character in his hands, let alone the protagonist of the film. The romance between him and Sally and also the secret swing with Maximilian provides Christopher Isherwood with more depth that the book granted him to have.
Another constant change in the character of Christopher Isherwood is his race. With varied names; Christopher Isherwood in the film and the play ‘I am a Camera’, Cliff Bradshaw in the stage version of the musical ‘Cabaret’ and Brian Roberts in the film ‘Cabaret’, his nationality also changes. In the stage version of ‘Cabaret’, Cliff Bradshaw is an American and turned back to be an Englishman in the film version. This variation can be to make the American audience closer to the character and was left out in the film version, because they made Sally Bowles American this time. We can see from these changes that they believed the American main-stream audience, which is the main target the productions aim for, to sympathize with an American more than with an English character.
The character of Sally Bowles is beyond doubt the most famous and beloved character of the book. There isn’t of course only one reason for this to happen; in fact all of her characteristics emerge together and make this rather annoying, high-maintenance woman turned into an eccentric but lovely character. The most important part of Sally Bowles which made her so famous, even though not necessarily the way she –Jean Ross- would have wanted it, is that she plays a persona, rather then being herself. Christopher Isherwood writes about this side of Jean in ‘Christopher and His Kind’ as that:
“… I can see that she was full of fun and quite conscious of herself as a comic character. Once, a few years later in London, she told Christopher that she was going over to Ostende for the weekend. He asked, ‘Why on earth-?’ She answered, with her brilliant grin: ‘So I can come back here and be the Woman from Ostende’. “
Isherwood also talks about the difficulty to transfer this aspect of Jean to Sally, because he thinks that ‘if a fiction character is allowed to play-act so self-consciously, there is a danger that the mask may stick to its face…’ But though, Isherwood shows us the playfulness in Sally and mainly her act as a ‘decadent lady’ like she puts it, but with events like Klaus’ break-up with her and the abortion she had to face, the readers can feel more then a decadent cabaret singer, a gold-digger or an adventurer –or all of them-. The character then appeals to a lot of different likings, an adventurer, and crazy, one may say, a woman whose adventures the readers can enjoy and a scared 20 year old girl who doesn’t know that much about the world as she herself likes to believe, for whom the reader can have sympathy.
This is the case for the written form. When transformed to the stage or to the cinema, Sally Bowles is an even greater role which is perfect for the stage. She is extravagant in every way; her whole appearance – from the way she dresses to the color she chooses for her fingernails, the over-cheery way she talks, the way she constantly flirts with every man around…. Especially in the film ‘Cabaret’, Liza Minelli’s performance of Sally Bowles creates a dynamic, over the top character which even influences the fashions of the day with her weird choice on clothing, to her disgusting prairie oysters. The role she plays which once intimidated Christopher Isherwood is much more exaggerated in the film and although she still have some moments or true openings in which she puts away her mask, she is more of a ‘comic character’ as Isherwood puts it, then a real woman. The role she plays puts her into the main character of the film, even though one may suggest that the main character still is Brian Roberts, he is far more passive then Sally Bowles and she outshines his importance in the film in every scene.
In the book as we have a lot of different characters belonging to different status, race and background, and because Christopher Isherwood is determined to stay as objective as possible, the reader never has to stick with one perspective. But this approach is a hard-one to establish in a script, as it must have one protagonist whose point-of-view the audience would follow. To make different perspectives of the current situation in Berlin in the 30’s possible, Bob Fosse and John Van Druten creates side-stories with minor characters of the novel.
This is also because of the required integration to write a script out of the book and to better use the characters that Isherwood portrays. In the play of ‘I am a Camera’, the side story is Nathalia Landauer’s plan of marrying a young and wealthy Jew which is imperiled by the Anti-Semitist atmosphere of Berlin and Germany. Joe Masteroff didn’t include this story in the musical ‘Cabaret’, but created a similar, if not more dangerous, love affair between Christopher Isherwood’s tenant-lady Fräulein Schneider and a Jewish fruit-shop owner Herr Schultz, which ended with Fräulein Scheider breaking up the engagement. When the film version of ‘Cabaret’ was realized, Bob Fosse returned to the love affair of Nathalia Landauer and changed her suitor to a poor Jew who impersonates to be a Christian. Although these parts can vary from one version to another, we can see that the reasons behind these transformations stays the same and they act to better portray the Jewish Front of the Era and also help to clear the story from the accusation of focusing too much on the strangers living in Berlin at the time and ignoring the real habitants –both German and Jew-.
3. SEXUAL POLITICS LEADING THE ADAPTIONS
HOMOSEXUALITY OR THE LACK OF IT
As mentioned before, ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ is recollections from the experiences Isherwood lived in Berlin in the course of three years. But there is one important aspect which doesn’t allow the readers to experience his whole life in Berlin; his sexual orientation. Because of the fact that homosexuality was still illegal both in England and in Germany –though it was lived more openly in Berlin- he needed to cover his homosexuality and this result him placing himself as another person, like he reveals in his autobiography of the Berlin years; ‘Christopher and His Kind’ (1976) , as his love affair with a German working-class communist, Otto, is recorded as an affair between “an Englishman, Peter Wilkinson, about my own age”. and Otto. In this way, no one could directly accuse him, but the avid readers can still understand his true sexuality. Another way that he gives himself away is how he describes Otto in the novel: “Otto has a face like a very ripe peach. His hair is fair and thick, growing low on his forehead. He has small sparkling eyes, full of naughtiness, and a wide, disarming grin, which is much too innocent to be true…”
The fear of possible accusation also prevented him from telling an account of his stay and acquaintances in ‘Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science (Dr. Magnus Hirschfelds Institut fuer Sexual Wissenschaft), which could be an important account on the gay front of the day, keeping also in mind that it had later destroyed by the Nazis.
HOW THE PRODUCTIONS TREATED HOMOSEXUALITY
In the stage and film production of ‘I Am a Camera’, the homosexuality of Christopher Isherwood is completely left over, which is also the case in the musical production of the ‘Cabaret’. This is not only because of the fact that homosexuality was still more or less of a taboo in the fifties, but also because otherwise the love between Sally and Isherwood would be impossible to occur and this would leave the story without a main focus.
In the stage production of ‘Cabaret’, although Cliff Bradshaw is still a heterosexual, the homosexuality is recognized in the decadence of the Cabaret culture, with the Emcee in drag with several other cabaret boys. This is in fact an approach very similar to Christopher Isherwood himself who, instead of stating his true sexual orientation, invents characters to play his part and stay as an observer. He also tells about “the peasant boys ,in Tiergarten, out of their tiny unprotected villages into the city, to look for food, and work, …, but the city, …, is cold, cruel and dead.” Which implies to the low-class boys selling their bodies in the slams of Berlin, and there is a pretty good chance that the shabby lokal he went to when living with the Nowaks in the novel; Alexander Casino is actually the ‘boy bar’ he acclaimed to be acquaianted in ‘Christopher and His Kind’; The Cosy Corner, because of the fact that The Cosy Corner was in Zossenerstrasse which is very near to the Hallesches Tor where the Nowaks live and they both have ‘heavy leather curtain’ as a door in the entrance. In the Cosy Corner, the working-class boys sold their bodies and although Isherwood didn’t clearly said this for Alexander Casino, he wrote about ‘ a boy with a round childish face’ and ‘an elderly, shaven-headed, respectable-looking man’ sitting together at a table and the boy laying his hands on the man’s knee to ‘emphasize his point’ . Like Cabaret, in a time of economical crisis, Berlin is also a place where no one can afford to judge other people’s morals.
When we came to the film version of ‘Cabaret’, it’s 1972 and the audience is ready to recognize homosexuality in a character, but making Brian Roberts a homosexual would have left the production without a proper plot to advance the story, so he was transformed into a confused bisexual –he said to Sally that he had been with three women, but didn’t enjoy either of them, but after they had sex, they thought it was just these women’s fault and in the final break-down scene, Brian admitted that he had sex with Maximilian.- In this way, the film isn’t depicted any more of its decadence of homosexual culture which was also an important aspect of Berlin in the era and it still has a major love-story to continue the narration. This is the closest production to ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ in this aspect and one may argue, it has even more sexuality and perversity than the book, because of the difference of the era. This is also a very important reason, alongside with Liza Minelli’s performance and Bob Fosse’s brilliant direction, especially of the scenes regarding Nazis, which put the film in the position of the most famous and successful among all the productions and the book.
4. RACIAL POLITICS AND THE NAZI ATMOSPHERE OF BERLIN
Although as Isherwood himself later admits in ‘Christopher and His Kind’ that he was reluctant in telling the account of the pre-Nazi Berlin, he addressed to the issue in several ways in ‘Goodbye to Berlin’. He rapports the most detailed account of the Nazi terror through Bernhard Landauer, but he also describes some characters with Nazi ideology like Fräulein Mayr and the Nazi doctor at the Ruegen Island and gives general accounts of the daily incidents all through the book and directs to the issue mostly and most severely at the end chapter; ‘A Berlin Diary’.
His character Bernhard is the most politically active Jew of the novel. But in all the productions, Bernhard is left out, maybe because he wasn’t an important character at the book and wasn’t as interesting as the other characters. It was also wiser to choose Nathalia over Bernhard at the sake of the plot, because Nathalia is more open to be transformed as a character and easier to be turned into a real character on stage, whereas Bernhard’s character is gloomy and a little bit asocial or frigid. Nathalia’s love affair with Fritz Wendel provides the film with racial oppression that Bernhard faced in the book and the scene where the Nazis kill her dog replaces the treads that he repeatedly receives.
The daily accounts in the book are often given in the film as cutting through the scene –usually a Cabaret number-. This ‘cut-to’s provide the audience with the chance to compare the life in the Cabaret and on the streets and creates a judgmental feeling towards the care-free decadent people of the Cabaret. Sally, Brian, along with many other Germans, even the Jews ignored the Nazis for a long time, seeing them as a couple of outrageous youngsters, but this didn’t prevent the Nazis from entering into the world of the Cabaret and changed history. These ‘cut-to’ scenes accuses the middle-class and high-class people through the Cabaret itself of ignoring the problem ahead and staying inactive, where they could in fact prevent the problem, before it went out of control. Bob Fosse is saying through this structure, that one of the responsible groups of Nazi’s actions is the Germans themselves, because they were too much in focus with their lives and their pleasures to truly grasp the problem, and because they didn’t act, before the problem got big enough to affect themselves. But we can see at the end of the film that though the world of the Cabaret is a different-one from the reality, it didn’t protect their followers from the Nazi politics.
‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’
The song ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ was first realized in the stage version of the ‘Cabaret’. It was a recurring musical piece which emphasizes Nazi’s rise to power and how the general German people in Berlin and familiar people around the characters –Fräulein Kost for example- start to line up with the Nazi party. The most dominant scene in this theme is when the song is sung in a beer garden, which also translated into the film version. Bob Fosse did a brilliant job on directing this scene. This is also the only song sung outside of the stage in the Kit Kat Club and functions as a turning point in the film. Just after Brian and the rich baron Maximilian laughed about keeping Nazis under control, on their way to Maximilian’s mansion, they stop at a beer garden and a pension in the woods; ‘Waldesruhe’ (Forest’s Peace), a young boy starts singing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to me’. Bob Fosse first shows only the boys face, which is rather pretty and peaceful and there is no doubt that a spectator stranger of the musical play starts to enjoy the peace and gets under the music’s and the boy’s influence. This is exactly when the camera slides down to the boy and shows us that he is a young Nazi soldier. The scene is like a replica of a turning point scene in almost any of the Hollywood soldier-theme film and in this way, Bob Fosse also comments on the way Hollywood boosts militarism and patriarchy. The scene is far more disturbing then any other Nazi scene in the movie, because the boy, his voice, the place and the way the scene is directed can only be called as beautiful, and this is the most open comment of Bob Fosse on why so many Germans joined to the Nazi Party in the 30’s. He didn’t put his own input and views into the film, but this scene is a direct examination by him and passes even Isherwood’s examinations in ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ with a deeper analysis of the German society.
The scene let Bob Fosse to show the audience, that after this moment, almost all of the German society ‘stand up’ to be with the Nazis, and the only person sitting down and resisting the Nazis is a very old man which clearly symbolizes the opposite of ‘Tomorrow’.
THE WORLD WITHIN THE WORLD; THE KIT-KAT CLUB
The Kit Kat Club, or Lady Windermere doesn’t have a lot of exposure in ‘Goodbye to Berlin’, but it is the center of the story in the stage productions, and although its role seems diminished in the film version of the ‘Cabaret’, it still has an essential role in the plot. Bob Fosse uses the Cabaret to create a different world which can comment on the current Berlin and this provides the film with a deeper apprehending and importance of the Nazi environment and the on-going politics of Berlin at the era, more then any other production or the book provide. Aside with some events in the plot, like Nazi’s assault to Nathalia, the Cabaret itself shows the audience the advancement of the Nazi force. There is also another way in which Bob Fosse isolates the Kit Kat Club from the rest of the world and the rest of the film; except from ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’, every song in the movie are only sung in the stage of Kit Kat Club and this creates the special place that the club possess in the film and it also secured the real feeling of the rest of the film. Thus, the serious historical events aren’t cheapen by the people singing and dancing around in a scene of violence, like most of the conventional Hollywood musical tend to do.
Like the dangerous smirk and the understanding nod of the Master of the Ceremonies at the end of the beer garden scene, the songs and especially the Master of the Ceremonies himself often cuts into the action –or the action is parallel editing with the stage number- to comment on the story plot. The song ‘Money Money’ comments on the danger of Brian’s and Sally’s plan with Maximilian, so long with ‘Two Girls’. Also some songs are commented through the ‘cut to’ scenes of Nazi violence. With this dynamic, Bob Fosse uses the Cabaret like a framing device for the whole plot.
Master of the Ceremonies’ role in this framing is essentially important, as he took the role of Christopher Isherwood himself in pointing out and commenting. His role is more obvious and he truly resembles to the Ancient Greek way of a narrator, not only as a presenter of the Cabaret shows, but also as he constantly gives comments and hints about the plot and the future of Germany. This role of his is most dominant at the end of the film. After Sally sung ‘Life is a Cabaret’, Bob Fosse shows us that maybe life isn’t a cabaret, but the cabaret is life himself. After Sally got off the stage, the stage lights first shows the Master of Ceremonies and then the light passes through the curtains in addition of a montage sequence of past events in the film and stops at a distorted reflection of the audience, in which we can see that almost all of them became Nazi’s. Hence, the place which first ridicules about the Nazis became a Nazi territory itself. The Cabaret ignored the Nazi problem and found it something to kid about, but the Nazis even invaded the Cabaret, which is the life itself, meaning the total dominance of the Nazi force in Germany.
The film’s ideas about the culpable force of the Nazis is very different from various other films and documentaries about Nazis; of course Hitler and the Nazi Party are to blame, but the German people who didn’t see the serious problem ahead and didn’t react to it and the ones who fell into their traps are also to blame, according to Bob Fosse. In this way and in a way of focusing on the loose morals of the society; the Cabaret puts ‘Cabaret’ into the Nazi films.
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