Lizzie Francke

Carry On Up the Weimar

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

By Linda Mizejewski

Princeton University Press 272pp £25 order from our bookshop

At the beginning of this year The Times ran a fashion spread contemplating the revival of a 1970s-style maquillage. Amongst the close-ups of the pale moon faces with their tendrilled hair, rind-thin plucked eyebrows and sugary plum lips was a poster for the film Cabaret. With her shiny black helmet of a haircut, bead choker and spider-leg eyelashes, Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles instantly becomes a marker for a garish retro-fashion. ‘Divinely decadent, darling,’ as this American chanteuse on the make in Berlin during the Weimar years famously said, twinking her green-varnished fingers in the air. Indeed, complete with the black boots, stockings and suspenders, the bowler hat perched coquettishly on the side of her head, she is presented as an icon of decadence that is at once camp (we are talking Judy Garland’s daughter here) and pornographically suggestive. It echoes a range of other images, from Marlene Dietrich gartered and stockinged in a real Weimar movie, The Blue Angel, to the S & M manuals with their Nazi regalia. As part of a 1970s take on the worm-ridden years that saw the rise of Hitler, it seems strangely propitious that this manifestation of Sally Bowles should be put under the fashion spotlight now. But then, from her inception in Christopher Isherwood’s book of autobiographical sketches Goodbye to Berlin, Sally has, as Linda Mizejewski rigorously argues, a habit of popping up at moments of crisis, her tale retold to reflect the anxieties of the age.

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