Judge Brett Cullum thinks life is a cabaret old chum.
"I am a camera with its shutter open."—Christopher Isherwood
Before there was Cabaret there was The Berlin Diaries, English author Christopher Isherwood's memoir of his time in decadent 1930s pre-Nazi Berlin. He was gay, free, and part of a subculture scene that partied the night away without any fear of the coming storm. It was a magical time, unfortunately most know the unlikely character of Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) rather than the real story.
Christopher and His Kind is a BBC adaptation of Isherwood's memoirs which gave birth to the musical masterpiece. At the center of the story is Christopher (Matt Smith, Doctor Who) who is in Berlin for the boys and the boys alone…and he's in luck. There's hardly a straight man to be found, and the real nightclub singer (Imogen Poots, 28 Weeks Later) is a fag hag who can barely hold a note. The film shows us the true life tale of what Berlin was like for Isherwood, and there are surprisingly few Fosse dance routines to be found. It was more like West Hollywood with a surprise takeover by Sarah Palin, going from fashion to fascism in the blink of an eye.
I suppose many Doctor Who fans will seek this one out simply to see if Matt Smith can pull off Isherwood. It might be a strange departure to see the time traveling doctor naked with other men, but Smith certainly does well, looking haunted from the start. Imogen Poots gets the thankless job of playing a tone deaf version of the role that won Liza Minelli an Oscar. She does just fine, but we can't forget who she's playing.
The heart the problem with Christopher and His Kind is that the ghosts of Cabaret simply loom too large to let this one stand on its own without comparison. It is far more gay and deeply political, but lacking the spark and soul of the musical. Still, it's an important story to tell, as America these days feels like hedonistic Berlin with the looming threat of a conservative backlash. The lessons of Isherwood and his entourage should be shared with the current generation who think Lady Gaga songs and a handful of states to get married in are enough to declare victory. It's one thing to win a battle, and quite another to win the entire war.
The DVD is simple and free of anything but the feature. No extras get in the way of the main event, not even previews before the simple menu. The transfer looks just fine for a television project, though it feels a bit clinical. Sometimes too bright of a wash comes over the image, but it's finely represented with vibrant color and clarity. A stereo English track does an adequate job with the dialogue and occasional cabaret number. All in all, a slick television biopic.
You'll enjoy Christopher and His Kind, if you have a penchant for gay Berlin or an interest in the origins of Cabaret. It's I Am a Camera without the love story, though the most accurate account of the era.
Guilty of being a songless musical based on drier source material.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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