Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Performer + Role: Joel Grey in Cabaret

Here's a link to a video of Joel Grey in Cabaret performing "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes"--a great combination of the charming, the ridiculous, and (in the final punch line) the disturbing. The film, based on a Broadway musical, is set in Weimar Germany--the same era in which Brecht wrote Man Equals Man--and it borrows the performance styles of the era.

Like a Brechtian clown, Grey's EmCee does not have a realistic "character" with clear psychological motives; he is a performer who functions wholly within the world of the cabaret, and here he is "playing" a man who is in love with a gorilla. The line between performer (EmCee) and role (man in love with gorilla) is not entirely clear, and neither is the performer's attitude towards that role.

The potentially Brechtian result is that the audience cannot be sure whether this performance is anti-Semitic or a critique of anti-Semitic attitudes. They must wrestle with irony and ideological uncertainty, perhaps thinking about the issue in a new way.

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