June 21, 2018

The German Cabaret Legacy in American Popular Music by William Farina

Evanston resident, author William Farina has written an excellent book about how Germany’s Weimar cabaret culture has impacted much of Western music and culture in the past several decades.

The Weimar Republic is loosely defined from 1919 to 1933 which is the time after World War I in Germany until the run-up to World War II. The 1930s saw the rise of Nationalism and the Nazi Party leading up to the global maelstrom between the Allies and the Axis. As one has watched the rise of nationalism in our own country, one could draw some unsettling parallels between our present day and that of this storied era of German history.

Troubled times frequently result in artistic ferment and the Weimar Republic is a particularly good example. Kurt Weill and Frederick Hollander were writing music, Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) was setting new standards in performance and a young Marlene Dietrich was creating a persona that would find world-wide popularity.

Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel), G. W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks), F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) were but a few of the filmmakers working in Germany at the time. Leni Riefenstahl was also writing and directing films throughout the 20s and 30s before signing on as the official visual recorder of the Nazi regime.

German performers, writers, directors, composers and authors, many of them Jewish fled and created new lives for themselves in Hollywood, in New York and in countless cities in the U. S. and other European locales. Little wonder that all of the arts would be impacted by this diaspora.

Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Interesting connections are made throughout Farina’s book. Jim Morrison of the Doors was a film student of Josef von Sternberg which may explain why he recorded Weill’s Alabama Song. The Beatles got their true start playing cabaret venues in Hamburg, Germany, even recording German versions of some of their songs. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote that he became semi-obsessed with the song Mack the Knife. Lotte Lenya also recorded a version of Mack with the legnedary Louis Armstrong.

Marlene Dietrich, who performed live cabaret shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, was instrumental in creating the “big name” tradition on the Las Vegas Strip. No less than Burt Bacharach was her music director/pianist before his run of song hits. In her final film appearance, Dietrich shared a scene with David Bowie singing the song Just a Gigolo.

Marlene Dietrich

Broadway writers Kander and Ebb renewed interest in the Weimar Republic with their groundbreaking musical Cabaret which cast Lotte Lenya in a supporting role on Broadway. Many of the songs from their other musicals, most notably Chicago, have a Berlin cabaret feel.

Weill songs can be found on recordings by the likes of Bette Midler, Marianne Faithful, Teresa Stratas and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Mack the Knife alone has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Buble, Bobby Darin, Sting and Lyle Lovett, to name a few.

Ute Lemper

Current German cabaret artists like Ute Lemper and Max Raabe continue to play to sold-out houses across the globe.

My show at Dank Haus on Friday, April 6 will include a short presentation by William Farina and my interpretation of songs by Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, selected song hits of Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf along with some of my own creations.

Show details below. Tickets must be ordered in advance.

A French Village/Un Village Francais Season 7 on MHZ

I wrote a blog post on Un Village Francais/A French Village a while back, but an update was definitely needed since MHZ recently made the seventh and final season available on its streaming service.

The wrap-up season has been somewhat of a let-down after six previous engrossing seasons, but most fans of the show will want to see the characters through to their respective ends.

The creators of the program use flash-forwards to future decades including the 21st century. Make-up artists were tasked with aging people in some cases into their 90s with mostly believable results.

Just a word of warning, if you expect the aftermath of the French Occupation to be a “feel good” affair, you will be greatly disappointed. Many of the characters are forever damaged by their experiences. The final episodes have intricate and confusing plot points that may need some further clarification.

If you complete all seven seasons, here is the MHZ page with 41 comments about the final season and possible interpretations:

https://mhzchoice.vhx.tv/a-french-village/season:7/videos/afrvil-c-07006?anon=17dcf608-2acd-428d-9a3e-1784dbc70976

Wataha on MHZ

Readers know that I periodically mention European dramas streaming on the MHZ web site, but instead of proffering a series title in French, German, Italian or a Scandinavian language, I can now add a television show from Poland. Wataha is a 2014 Polish action crime drama about a border patrol that polices the Polish-Ukrainian border.

The series starts off with an explosion that kills a whole group of border patrol officers with one man escaping, Captain Wiktor Rebrow. A young female prosecutor comes in to investigate the case and her prime suspect for the murders is Rebrow himself.

We see the Border Guard unit deal with the illegal smuggling of drugs, weapons and humans while the ambitious woman from the district prosecutor’s office keeps them under close scrutiny. Political intrigue and murder all figure into the intricate plot.

HBO Europe broadcast the six episodes of Wataha‘s Season 1 as The Border Season 2 with another six episodes was shown in Europe in 2017. It is my hope that MHZ secures the streaming rights to Season Two postehaste. Dziekuje Ci. That’s “thank you” in Polish!

The Team, Danish crime drama on MHZ

The Team is a Danish crime drama television series which premiered in 2015 and is currently streaming on MHZ network. Lars Mikkelsen (seen in Borgen) is the Danish point detective Harald Bjorn working with Belgian homicide detective Alicia Verbeek (Veerie Baetens) and police superintendent Jackie Muller (Jasmin Gerat) from Berlin on a cross-border crime case.

Murders occurring in various European locales are suspiciously similar. The crime team connects the dots to determine the guilty party or parties.

We get glimpses of the European sex trade, human trafficking, political in-fighting within the police and pretty gruesome scenes containing waterboarding torture, the slaughter of chickens and the mutilation of corpses. If that does not put you off, you will be drawn into this story of international crime and intrigue.

For those that like a little emotional drama, there is also a sub-plot with two of the main detectives having had an adulterous affair that resulted in a child.

MHZ continues to offer some of the best European crime dramas. Danish, English, Dutch, French, German and Swedish are the languages heard in this production with English subtitles. Besides the scenes with subtitles, the principal actors all speak very clear English, with Mikkelsen having a scarily good British accent.

The eight 57-minute episodes of The Team are typical Scandi-noir with great cinematography, crisp dialogue, graphic crime depiction and an intricate plot. Is this perhaps your mug of glogg?

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion Kick-off Concert Sunday, July 23 at 6:30 pm at PianoForte

Headliners at PianoForte include Lynne Jordan, Claudia Hommel, Elizabeth Doyle, Kat Victoria along with Ava Logan, Cynthia Clarey, Natalja Aicardi, Ty Cooper and Barb Smith with pianist Paul Coscino.

People keep asking me what this “Connexion” is all about. In a nutshell, it is a three day conference with American and French singers in Paris. This is no mere touristic visit to the City of Light, but a meeting of vocal artists from Chicago and Paris to discuss the performance, history and future of cabaret. We hope this to be the first of annual conferences which will alternate between Chicago and Paris, our sister city.

Some of the weekend highlights will include visits to the Museum of Montmartre with its excellent collection of cabaret memorabilia, to the Sunday morning open sing-along at the Petit Bal Musette on the rue Mouffetard and to Le Lapin Agile which has been a cabaret venue since 1860.

Clinicians both French and American will present a concert on Saturday evening, September 16 at Studio Raspail; conference participants will be featured in a concert on Sunday, September 17 at l’Espace le Scribe.

Morning and afternoon sessions will be master classes and special presentations such as Kat Victoria’s show on Black female singers in Paris, Michel Trihoreau’s history of cabaret with singer-guitarist Michel Grange and Yves Bertrand’s program on singer-songwriter Marcel Legay.

The conference is not only for singers. We have some fans who will be attending the evening performances of the “Connexion” in Paris.

Cabaret fan Clyde Whitaker is flying into Paris from Thailand.

The funds we are raising in Chicago are predominantly to pay for the Paris venues and the salaries of French musicians and clinicians. Please support this musical project that strengthens the bond between Paris and Chicago. Your attendance at one of our benefit concerts, your purchase of a raffle ticket or your donation will help make this international cabaret exchange a reality. Long live cabaret in Paris and Chicago!

For more information on the Chicago concerts and the Paris Conference, please go to: http://www.chicagopariscabaretconnexion.org/index.php

French television shows available on streaming services

Anyone who wants to begin learning a language or freshen their knowledge of current dialogue in a foreign language may consider checking out television programs in that language.

My emphasis in this blog post is on French programs that have legible sub-titles on internet streaming platforms.

Even if you aren’t trying to learn a language, you will delight in Gallic crime shows, dramas and comedies.

MHZ has a large collection of French tv shows, but Netflix also has some very interesting selections. You can add the MHZ service to your Amazon Prime account, or add the app to your Apple TV line-up. Please consult the link below to see how else you can access MHZ. Hulu is adding a few more French programs so check them out as well.

I will continue to search for more French television series on streaming services. If you run across anything good in French, please send me your French tv recommendations and where you found them.

Bonne chance!

French television shows available on streaming services:

Braquo – MHZ – A brutal but well-made police procedural.

The Break (La Treve) – Netflix – An unsettling Belgian psychological crime series.

Bureau of Sexist Affairs – MHZ – Comedy shorts on various topics.

Cain – MHZ – A charming cop show starring Bruno Debrandt.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix – A comedy about stars and their agents in France.

The Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) – MHZ – A thoughtful drama about young men studying to become Catholic priests.

Detectives – MHZ – A light, entertaining detective series.

Dolmen – MHZ – A ridiculously romantic series if you are in the mood for such fare.

Frank Riva – MHZ – The iconic Alain Delon plays an ex-detective who returns to the fray.

A French Village (Un Village Francais) – MHZ & Hulu – Historical fiction about World War II in a small town in France.

Kaboul Kitchen – MHZ – Comedy set in Afghanistan. Not my cup of kefir, but some like it.

Maigret – MHZ – Simenon novels are depicted on the small screen. Very popular, but not one of my favorite series.

Maison Close – Hulu –  Quite raunchy story about a bordello in France. Only if you are not easily offended.

Marseille – Netflix – Fair to middling political intrigue in Marseille. Tune in to see the marvelous Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimell who goes toe to toe with him.

Paris – MHZ – Off-beat series about Parisians whose paths cross in surprising ways.

Pigalle, la Nuit – Hulu – A dramatic series set in Paris’ Pigalle area depicting tawdry doings.

The Returned (Les Revenants) – Netflix – The dead return. Season 1 was mesmerizing; Season 2 bored me to … tears.

Spiral (Engrenages) – MHZ & Hulu – Voted best 2015 tv show in the world and rightly so. Crime, legal and political skullduggery.

The Witnesses (Les Temoins) – Netflix – Decent detective series starring Thierry Lhermitte.

https://www.primevideo.com/splash/getTheApp/ref=dv_web_nav_wa

https://www.hulu.com/a-french-village

http://www.mhznetworks.org/

https://www.netflix.com

And for short clips for the beginning French student:

Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French (two French sisters in the U. S.) – youtube