Its been forty years since Bob Fosse’s classic musical Cabaret walked away with eight Academy Awards. Warner Brothers is celebrating the film’s anniversary with its release of a fully remastered Blu-Ray book set on February 5th.
The stars of the film, Joel Grey, Michael York, Marisa Berenson and Louise Quick, along with Bob Fosse’s daughter, Nicole, and Warner Brothers’ Vice President of Mastering Ned Price, gathered in Manhattan, where the film originally premiered to discuss their memories of the movie as well as this new release.
Ned Price, the Vice President of Mastering at Warner Brothers Technical Operations oversaw the actual restoration process of the film.
Media Mikes: What was the biggest challenge about this remaster?
Ned Price: The technical challenge on this particular film was that one of the film reels was literally scratched right through the emulsion. I can tell you basically how. It happened back in the late eighties and I know that it was on a film cleaner…and it’s meant for newer negatives but somebody put it up with an older negative. And on older negatives, dirt becomes embedded into the emulsion, so what it did was it picked up a piece of dirt that was in the emulsion and it rolled as it went through the cleaner all the way down. And it wasn’t a fine scratch to the point where you could just paint it out with a wet gate and it wasn’t fine enough where you could just say ‘okay kind of meld the image a little bit’ it was large enough where you would have to paint…by eye frame by frame. We tried to create a digital process, new software where it could identify information in between the scratch and replicate the material, but all we really succeeded in doing was warping things and it wasn’t good enough. So ultimately we ended up painting.
MM: Seeing the restored version was there anything you noticed that struck you and you didn’t see before your work?
Price: Color design. My experience had been seeing the film with rather poor prints commercially before I was with the studio…When we started to pull in prints that were technicolor made which means that they didn’t fade, we started weening through those and found about three or four which really looked accurate and good for color. I saw amazing color design. You know, you’ve got green nails against purple and just beautiful color design that were not necessarily apparent in the poor prints. Which were more blue, more green, just kind of muted and polluted in terms of their color values.
Also, the Kit Kat girls! Man…We were going shot by shot and you see these women in these impossible poses and you think ‘oh god, how many takes did they take?’
One such dancer was Louise Quick, who talked about her experience of being a Kit Kit dancer.
Louise Quick: I never thought of it as tough because it was…exciting is kind of a plain word–there was so much electricity, the air was so alive and the work is hard but you don’t think about that. That’s not important.
In one of the film’s most iconic musical numbers, “If You Could See Her”, Quick, dressed in a gorilla suit, dances with Joel Grey’s Master of Ceremonies.
Media Mikes: How did you wind up being in the gorilla suit?
Louise Quick: I don’t know! I didn’t know until right before we started doing it. It wasn’t decided before hand.
Nicole Fosse: I’m going to take a guess and say it was there were only two Kit Kat dancers that spoke English and it was Kathryn Doby and Louise Quick. And Kathryn was much taller–[laughs] not that it would have been Kathryn had she been shorter! But you have two who speak English, how do you communicate? So, Louise, get in the suit!
Quick: Her mother, Gwen Verdon, brought that mask back from New York to Munich on a plane with it on her lap I heard, she would not part with it because it’s a beautiful mask.
Joel Grey won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in his role as the Kit Kat Klub’s MC, a devilish character we never see outside of the club environment. When asked about his favorite scenes from the film, he discussed “If You Could See Her”:
Joel Grey: I like the Gorilla number of course. It’s so mean, seductive, beautiful melody and it’s just a big idea. I wanted to make him as vile as I possibly could and that gave me that opportunity late in the film. To not be charming but to be evil.
Media Mikes: Did you have a backstory for the MC?
Joel Grey: Of course!
MM: What is it?
Grey: You can’t know! It’s reeeeally gross. I made a whole life for myself since there was no text and no really description about who he was. I was terrified because I thought it was gonna be a musical comedy–four, five numbers– and I wanted it to be horrifying and important and capable of saying many things. Not just a song and dance number. So I dug and dug and dug and looked at German expressionists paintings and listened to music…and he came. One day, he came.
Michael York played Brian Roberts, a British language teacher who enters the world of the Kit Kat Club when he meets Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) in their German boarding house. His character isn’t in any of the musical numbers and fittingly, York selected a quieter scene as his favorite:
Michael York: It’s easy for me, it’s a scene that was unscripted. We’re at the Baron’s castle…and Maximilian von Heune [Helmut Griem] has invited us to stay in this threesome. There was no scene written, you just turn up at 8 o’clock in the morning trying to be awake. And there was this beautiful room where they lit fires on each end. And we started to improvise. And it ended up where there’s a shot in the movie where they start dancing around each other and the heads go in and out. They’re looking at each other and it’s this sort of, I don’ t know, it’s a microcosm of all that’s been going on, that is going on, that will go on.
Grey: I thought you looked like you were enjoying that a little too much.
York: It was exciting. You’re right it was exciting.
Grey: Tell the truth!
York: Yes, it was one of those rare days you don’t know what you have. But what they did cutting it together, David Bretherton and Bob between them, edited this film in such a brilliant way that you never see too much. You’re always left wanting more. And so that was a good day.
Finally, actress Marisa Berenson who took on the role of Natalia Landauer discussed what it was like working with the other actors on what was only her second role.
Media Mikes: You were a newcomer when you did Cabaret, were the other actors welcoming to you?
Marisa Berenson: Immediately. Because they’re all the most generous, wonderful people…they made me feel instantly comfortable…which is rare because not everybody makes you feel like that. It’s a rare thing and it’s a wonderful thing.
MM: What was it like doing scenes with Liza Minnelli?
Berenson: We became close friends very early on and the minute we met we became–you know how you immediately meet someone and you connect with them? And Liza and I have that connection all our lives now…I learned so much from Liza just watching her as an actor. Seeing the way she worked. I have such respect for her as an actor, her talent, and she was so funny. She was so intelligent too. She’s such an intelligent person.
Cabaret 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray is available to own on February 5th
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