Divine Decadence

Divine Decadence: Fascism, Female Spectacle, and the Makings of Sally Bowles

LINDA MIZEJEWSKI
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 284
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvgks
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    Divine Decadence
    Book Description:

    As femme fatale, cabaret siren, and icon of Camp, the Christopher Isherwood character Sally Bowles has become this century's darling of "divine decadence"--a measure of how much we are attracted by the fiction of the "shocking" British/American vamp in Weimar Berlin. Originally a character in a short story by Isherwood, published in 1939, "Sally" has appeared over the years in John Van Druten's stage play I Am a Camera, Henry Cornelius's film of the same name, and Joe Masteroff's stage musical and Bob Fosse's Academy Award-winning musical film, both entitled Cabaret. Linda Mizejewski shows how each successive repetition of the tale of the showgirl and the male writer/scholar has linked the young man's fascination with Sally more closely to the fascination of fascism. In every version, political difference is read as sexual difference, fascism is disavowed as secretly female or homosexual, and the hero eventually renounces both Sally and the corruption of the coming regime. Mizejewski argues, however, that the historical and political aspects of this story are too specific--and too frightening--to explain in purely psychoanalytic terms. Instead, Divine Decadence examines how each text engages particular cultural issues and anxieties of its era, from postwar "Momism" to the Vietnam War. Sally Bowles as the symbol of "wild Weimar" or Nazi eroticism represents "history" from within the grid of many other controversial discourses, including changing theories of fascism, the story of Camp, vicissitudes of male homosexual representations and discourses, and the relationships of these issues to images of female sexuality. To Mizejewski, the Sally Bowles adaptations end up duplicating the fascist politics they strain to condemn, reproducing the homophobia, misogyny, fascination for spectacle, and emphasis of sexual difference that characterized German fascism.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6300-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS AND CREDITS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. Chapter One FANTASIES, FASCISM, FEMALE SPECTACLE: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-36)

    THOUGH THE FICTIONAL character Sally Bowles has appeared in a variety of texts over the past half century, this figure acquired a definitive iconography with Bob Fosse’s 1972 filmCabaret. In the widely publicized image, Liza Minnelli wears the unmistakable costume of Berlin-cabaret-decadence—black boots, gartered stockings, black hat—and is perched on a chair, one leg lifted in homage to the pose of her cabaret predecessor, Marlene Dietrich, in the similarly well-known image fromThe Blue Angel(Der blaue Engel) (1930). As a cultural sign, this representation is complicated because its significations extend from the campy to the pornographic,...

  6. Chapter Two “GOOD HETER STUFF”: ISHERWOOD, SALLY BOWLES, AND THE VISION OF CAMP
    (pp. 37-84)

    THE OBLIGATORY STARTING point of any critical discussion of Christopher Isherwood, for many readers, is his most famous sentence: “I am a camera …” which is the opening of the second paragraph ofGoodbye to Berlin. In an examination of Isherwood’s most famous—and most iconographic—character, Sally Bowles, it seems likewise obligatory to begin with a photograph, an image that has become ubiquitous in biographies of Isherwood and in other texts concerning young English writers in Weimar. This is Stephen Spender’s 1931 full-length photo of Jean Ross, Isherwood’s acquaintance in Berlin and the model for his character Sally Bowles....

  7. Chapter Three THE COLD WAR AGAINST MUMMY: VAN DRUTEN’S I AM A CAMERA
    (pp. 85-119)

    ALTHOUGH ALL THE Sally Bowles postwar adaptations are marked by contending aims and strategies, John Van Druten’s 1951 Broadway comedyI Am a Camerais unique in the kind of radical splits that characterize even its intended audience, so that a careful reading of this text inevitably plays contradiction upon contradiction, raising multiple political questions not easily answered in a feminist context. On the one hand, Broadway Sally marks the limitations of female sexual freedom for 1950s mainstream theater, the comic whore playing at the same time as Audrey Hepburn’s virginal Gigi in the other hit of the season, in...

  8. Chapter Four SALLY, LOLA, AND PAINFUL PLEASURES: THE FIRST ON-SCREEN SALLY BOWLES
    (pp. 120-158)

    CONSIDERING THE ORIGINS of the character Sally Bowles as the “good heter stuff” of the cinema-loving Isherwood, the eventual film adaptation ofGoodbye to Berlinseems to spin the project full circle, as the character who had been constituted as body, materiality, and spectacle replays that dynamic literally through the visual apparatus of cinema. Although the Broadway play also materialized the character physically, I have argued that the foregrounding of artifice may have allowed the performance of the androgynous-looking Julie Harris to work subversively within the multiple perspectives of theatrical space. But the 1955 film version ofI Am a...

  9. Chapter Five (NAZI) LIFE IS A CABARET: SALLY BOWLES AND BROADWAY MUSICAL
    (pp. 159-199)

    CONFRONTING SALLY BOWLES about her indifference to the political crisis around her in Weimar Berlin, the writer-protagonist of Joe Masteroff’s 1966 musical,Cabaret, says angrily, “Sally, can’t you see—if you’re not against all this, you’re for it—or you might as well be.”¹ If there is a distinct ring of 1960s political confrontation in this line, it is duplicated throughout the text ofCabaretwith its series of narrative and stylistic divisions that position characters, musical numbers, and staging devices in oppositional ways. Whereas the Sally Bowles of the 1950s adaptations may have been located somewhat ambiguously in relation...

  10. Chapter Six “DOESN’T MY BODY DRIVE YOU WILD WITH DESIRE?”: FOSSE’S CABARET
    (pp. 200-235)

    WITHOUT DOUBT, the most prescient reviewer of the stage musicalCabaretwas Roger Dettmer ofChicago’s American, who complained that Hal Prince’s project amounted to “a watered-downSweet Charitywith swastikas.”¹ TheSweet Chantyto which he refers is the musical that opened on Broadway the same year as the Hal Prince production. The brilliant choreographer ofCharitywas Bob Fosse, a song-and-dance man who had been a child performer of a vaudeville family and whose choreography on Broadway had included the immensely successfulPajama Game(1954), followed by hits such asDamn Yankees(1955) andHow to Succeed in...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 236-242)

    ALTHOUGH THE CULTURAL repetitions of the Sally Bowles story may give it the status of contemporary myth, another kind of mythologizing about a “real” Sally Bowles occurs in the context of Fosse’sCabaret. Jean Ross, Isherwood’s model for the character, had gone home to England following her eighteen months in Berlin and had never returned; she devoted the rest of her life to her daughter and to a variety of liberal political causes and died in 1973 without having seen any of the film or stage versions of her own fictionalized Berlin days. But in the Fosse biographyRazzle Dazzle,...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 243-252)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 253-261)