Short on narrative but rich in imagery and portent, Cabaret-Berlin: The Wild Scene, weaves together original photographs, paintings, home movies, news clippings, documentary footage, and audio archives into an impressionistic collage representing the Weimar Kabarett. While today Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill are synonymous with the era, the scene was dominated by such genius as German Jewish journalist Kurt Tucholsky, openly lesbian chanteuse Claire Waldoff, and the Bavarian Charlie Chaplin, Karl Valentin.
Unlike early American cabaret, which emphasized hot jazz over heated commentary, the German clubs prided themselves on having a sharp eye and sharper tongue. Comedians in the Kabarett never did light comedy -- sarcasm, cynicism, and irony were their lifeblood, flowing from the body politic. But the window was quite small: Prior to the end of World War I, public criticism in theaters had been banned by the German Empire; by 1935, most Kabarett stars had been sent to concentration camps, committed suicide, or fled into exile. Actor Ulrich Tukur (best known for his roles in The White Ribbon and 2006's Solaris) acts as emcee for the film, connecting songs and sketches to historic and social context through off-screen narration.
Cabaret-Berlin starts Monday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 3200 California, S.F. Admission is $12.