TCM Classic Film Fest kicks off with 'Cabaret,' Liza Minnelli
After more than six decades in show business, Liza Minnelli has learned a few tricks. “I surround myself with talented people and I wear jeweled costumes because I sweat when I dance,” said Minnelli, now 66, who first appeared on film at age 3. “The jewels make me look wet all over.”
Minnelli will share reminiscences and maybe even a few secrets with fans in Hollywood on Thursday at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which is opening with a newly restored version of “Cabaret.” The singer-actress honed her stagecraft in the 1972 musical and developed much of her winking, vampish style under the direction of choreographer Bob Fosse. Minnelli and her costar, Joel Grey, who both won Oscars for their performances, will speak to the audience at the screening and mingle with festival-goers at an afterparty.
Forty years after its debut, Minnelli said, the film about the politically oblivious, sexually decadent atmosphere of a 1930s Berlin nightclub still has cultural resonance.
“People hear ‘Cabaret’ and they think, ‘Oh Christ, it’s a musical about happiness.’” she said. “It’s not about that at all. It’s about opinions and politics and survival.”
“Cabaret” is one of 78 vintage features playing over four days in Hollywood this weekend as part of the Turner Classic Movies network’s event, which also includes appearances by Kim Novak and Debbie Reynolds, programming devoted to film noir and Hollywood fashion and fan-friendly activities like screenings of stars’ home movies and appraisals of Hollywood memorabilia by Bonhams auction house.
The festival, which benefits from an industry-wide trend of studios restoring and digitizing their library titles, will premiere new restorations of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “Rio Bravo” (1959) and “Two for the Road” (1967), as well as screen little-seen films like Clara Bow’s racy 1932 talkie “Call Her Savage” and the 1933 John Barrymore drama “Counsellor at Law.”
Now in its third year and hosted by TCM’s avuncular on-air film historian Robert Osborne, the festival emerged in response to audience surveys, according to Charlie Tabesh, TCM’s senior vice president of programming.
“One of the things that came out of the research was the passion and the sense of the community they share with other classic movie fans,” Tabesh said. “It led us to creating this place where classic movie fans could come together and almost act as a convention as much as it is a film festival.”
The festival draws fans paying up to $1,199 for four-day passes that allow them to rub elbows with their idols and fellow cineastes, and see films rarely exhibited on the big screen. Eighty percent of the festival passes are sold to attendees from outside Los Angeles, but the event, which draws about 25,000 people, also does a brisk walk-up business for individual films, Tabesh said.
“The festival is not a moneymaker for us,” he said. “It’s really a marketing and branding expense.”
Minnelli, who will perform at the Hollywood Bowl in August, recalled the production of “Cabaret” as creatively liberating.
“They sent us off to Germany to make a musical about the Nazis,” Minnelli said. “I don’t think they really believed in it. [Studio executives] would send telegrams and Fosse would read them out loud to the cast and crew and it would say, ‘Too smoky. It will break up in drive-ins.’ Fosse would rip it up and throw it over his shoulder. We were alone. We got away with murder.”
Although the story of “Cabaret” holds up remarkably well 40 years later, the actual film negative had aged terribly. When Warner Bros. obtained the rights to “Cabaret” a decade ago, a scratch ran through 1,000 feet of film, said Ned Price, vice president of mastering and restoration at the studio.
Restorers had to hand-paint in the scenes, and retain Fosse’s distinctive color palette. The restoration was completed April 4, Price said.
In the era of high-definition, big-screen TVs and Blu-ray players, audiences have become accustomed to an image quality the 40-year-old movie’s original theatergoers never would have enjoyed.
“The bar of the expectation of what the consumer is going to see has been raised,” Price said. “You can see things you never saw before. They’ll be getting a perfect print.”
Minnelli said she will be seeing the restoration for the first time with the audience.
“There’s something about being surrounded by people and all having that same experience together,” Minnelli said. “People want to feel what the first people who saw a movie felt.”
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photos: (top) Liza Minnelli in "Cabaret." (bottom) Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain." Credit: Warner Bros.