Friday, January 16, 2009

Cabaret of the Nameless

Kabarett der Namenlosen, or Cabaret of the Nameless, was one of the wildest and most taste-defying venues of the great Weimar Republic circa 1926 to 1932. And they also just happen to be a key part of understanding our own metachronistic aesthetic in Catclaw and especially The Voraxium.

The Cabaret's artistic director and emcee, Erwin Lowinsky (under the pseudonym "Elow") sought out some of the worst and weirdest aspiring entertainers in Europe, and booked at them at his show, telling them that this was their "big break" and that many a performer at Kabarett der Namenlosen went on to great showbiz success. He told them that the audience was filled with talent scouts, Broadway executives, record label reps, etc.

It was all a lie.

The truth was, the entire cabaret was designed to deliberately showcase these raw talents in a freak-show context, totally unbeknownst to the hapless performers. Think of it as if American Idol contestants ended up being submitted to a tacky and jeering Gong Show treatment.

As Mel Gordon's Voluptuous Panic puts it:

Typically, the clueless entertainers try to imitate the work of established Cabaret personalities, and proceed to humiliate themselves completely in their numbing attempts. While audience members drunkenly interrupt and boo the wretched losers, Elow unctuously takes the part of a kindly uncle or philanthropist and encourages the amateurs to ignore the vicious Philistines and continue their rotten singing, juggling, storytelling, impersonations, or poetry recitals.

And as Erich Kästner wrote in 1929:

The more incompentent and ignorant the poor artist-to-be is, the more welcome he is to the producer. And the more hospitably Elow's public accepts him. For the whole point here in the Cabaret of the Nameless is to laugh oneself silly at stupid and pathological human beings.... the ancient Romans turned their thumbs down when the vanquished was to be dealt the death blow. Here, they scream: "Keep him up there, Elow! He's soooo good!! Let him start over from the beginning!"

So does this mean we look upon our own performers with equal derision? Absolutely not; just the opposite. We take an all-inclusive view of the concept of "entertainment"; one that steps back and takes into account the whole of existence, and with this comes a greater willingness to embrace so-called "difficult" music and theatre.

To put it more plainly and also more arrogantly, we transcended long ago the average citizen's limited views on what is "good" and "bad", because we're looking at a bigger picture - the big picture.

If were we able to go back in time and visit Kabarett der Namenlosen, we would be thrilled to have the chance to rescue these performers from their situation and bring them back to here and now, where we would give them the star treatment they truly deserved, utterly devoid of condescention and irony.

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