This week we went to see Cabaret, the Broadway-style musical based on Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs of Berlin in the early 1930s and immortalized by the movie by Bob Fosse with Miza Minelli. In the second paragraph of the book, Isherwood describes his method:
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developped, carefully printed, fixed.
Sally Bowles is one of the most unforgettable character of this book, and to me, everything about her can be summed up at the very first instant we meet her, with her green fingernails:
‘For heaven’s sake, don’t leave me alone with this man!’ she exclaimed. ‘Or he’ll seduce me down the telephone. He’s most terribly passionate.’ As she dialled the number, I noticed that her fingernails were painted emerald green, a colour unfortunately chosen, for it called attention to her hands, which were much stained by cigarette-smoking and as dirty as a little girl’s.
From the first glimpse we get, everything’s said: her desire to be shocking and free, her bad taste, her naivete, her childishness, insecurity, eagerness to seduce and be loved back. It’s a superb example how a small detail can be enough to draw a whole character, very far indeed from the camera’s wide shutter, that takes everything without discriminating. I wish I could have gone on stage to check if Cabaret’s lead actress had painted her fingernails emerald green.