Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

Posted on: January 24, 2020

More than once in my Twitter life, I’ve posted a link to ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me,’ a scene from the 1972 film Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse. Back in 1972 when I saw Cabaret in the cinema, I thought the blond youth in a German outdoor café was rather drippy but now I’m at the age when no young person looks drippy and I see how the boy, aged perhaps seventeen, appears to be the epitome of Aryan beauty and innocence.

He stands up and sings solo while gradually others join in. I often find this an effective and moving device in films, from Non Nobis Domine in the Kenneth Branagh version of Henry V to Tomorrow in Annie and Santa Claus is Coming to Town in Elf.

While the boy sings Tomorrow Belongs to Me, the lens zooms back to reveal his Hitler Youth uniform and swastika armband; then the camera pans round the café to show that all are entranced  – except for one uncomfortable, uncomforted old man – and inspired to join in. Eventually the café clientele are standing up and singing fervently in unison. The atmosphere becomes martial as the camera rests on two other youths, also in nazi uniform but with baleful expressions, lustily singing, ‘Fatherland, fatherland, show us the sign…’ The soloist is now visible full lenth, adopting a fanatical look and stiff posture which segues into a full blown Hitler salute.

The episode is witnessed by Cabaret’s protagonist, based on Christopher Isherwood and portrayed by Michael York. He says with evident irony to his friend (played by Helmut Griem) as they hurry away into a taxi, ‘You still think you can control them?’

The scene is very cleverly done. It shows the manipulation of a crowd through a display of recognizable desiderata: beauty, song, love of country, hope – all in a horrible confluence of the aesthetically pleasing with the morally repugnant. The camera cuts away to the sinister figure of the Master of Ceremonies – an unforgettable and multi award-winning Joel Gray – nodding directly at us, the audience, with a knowing air, as if we too are complicit.

Why did I find reason to post this scene not once but twice or possibly three times on Twitter? What is the precise resonance with today’s predicaments, which seem to forecast storm clouds for tomorrow and beyond?

In my opinion, imho as they say, the film shows how fanaticism appeals to self-righteousness, and offers an adrenalin hit which impels lunch time diners or a street rally or an army to rise to their feet, voicing their consensual determination – to do what? In the case of Cabaret, we know that we are looking at the preparatory manoeuvres of the nazi killing machine. Yet there are many occasions when we are happy to stand up and sing for a cause, whether it’s a national anthem, Blake’s Jerusalem at the Proms or Handel’s Messiah where I’m usually one of the first to rise for the Hallelujah chorus.

‘Are we the baddies?’ asks David Mitchell’s character in the famous sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look.

In recent years, I find there are online places where  I personally am designated ‘the baddie’, for which I qualify by being a Zionist, or ‘arch-Zionist’ as one antagonist described me. So can we tell if we’re the baddies? We can use the well-worn tools of deontological, utilitarian or intuitive ethics; we can make altruism an absolute value and we can watch out for the consequences but I doubt that any of these methods are a reliable way of keeping on the straight and narrow.

Like much else, it’s a conundrum and I will probably think about it tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day… so long as nobody tries to hog it.

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