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Come back to ‘Cabaret,’ old chum

Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in the 2012 film "Flight," directed by Robert Zemeckis.

We go to see “Les Misérables,” and it doesn’t register as anything unusual to be watching a movie musical not rooted in escapism. But as the hardcover-packaged Blu-ray debut of “Cabaret” (1972) reminds us, established genre conventions were very different when Bob Fosse’s audacious production hit theaters four decades ago. Liza Minnelli famously stars as Sally Bowles, a singer and good-time girl in perennial denial in pre-WWII Berlin. Her personal drama is intercut with the decadent scene at the Kit Kat Klub, where the emcee (Joel Grey) always has some ready, randy lyrical commentary about the increasingly disturbing political climate outside. The disc offers a well-done retrospective focusing on Fosse’s exploration of dark themes, and the film’s role in redefining the genre after the social tumult of the ’60s had rendered musicals’ sunny frivolity irrelevant. As one Fosse biographer puts it, the movie “is directing our gaze into all of those things that Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were so good at distracting us from.” (On that note, we do get a look at clips of some of Fosse’s own fancy footwork from his humble days at MGM.) Minnelli and Grey appear in new interviews, still seeming giddy about the Oscars they and Fosse took home for their work — in an awards season that included “The Godfather.” Tangentially related note for Minnelli fans: Barbra Streisand’s remake of Judy Garland’s “A Star Is Born” also gets a hardcover hi-def release this week. (Warner, $27.98)

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