40 years of ‘The Sound of Music’

Posted on December 11, 2005


Picture courtesy: newindpress.com


It’s 40 years since the von Trapp family came to the big screen, and the recent release of the commemorative DVD is a reason to recall a few favourite things about the musical evergreen.

DEC 11, 2005 – MENTION THE SOUND OF MUSIC to anyone of a particular age, and you’ll evoke in them the kind of misty-eyed memory usually associated only with diaries containing farewell scrawls from schoolmates, or photographs of that droopy-eyed spaniel they grew up with. It’s not just an entertainment, they’ll say, it’s an event – and they’ll prove this by instantly recalling the year, the day, the date they saw it, probably with the timing of the show and their seat number. And, well, how can you argue? It is, after all, one of the most successful films of all time, and, until Grease came along, the most successful musical of all time. You can’t argue with “all time!â€?

But later generations have seen The Sound of Music only on the television screen, and they’re understandably cynical about, well, all the song and dance. All those impossibly-cute children! All that singing! All those endless shots of touristy, seemingly-pointless scenery! All that singing! All those shiny-happy lyrics! Did I mention all that singing? Did I also mention all that yodelling! Through an entire number? In those light-bulb-cracking pitches? No wonder that high-on-a-hill goatherd couldn’t manage any company!

In fact, the film’s most revered contribution to popular culture could just as easily have been its most reviled – the cutesy-patter of the nursery waltz, My Favourite Things. Raindrops on roses, you can see! But bright copper kettles? Would she next be waxing eloquent about her stainless steel kitchen range with the oven attachment? And brown paper packages tied up with strings? If you had to rhyme with “things,â€? couldn’t you have gone, uh, “Pretty li’l angels with gossamer wings?â€? (I’m no lyricist; just trying to make a point here.) This is filmmaking so quaintly wholesome, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the audience, during intermission, passed over the popcorn and soda for apple pie and a glass of warm milk instead. No wonder modern viewers are exclaiming – oh, let’s just go ahead and say it – So Long, Farewell!

But if you’ve seen it on the big screen, on what the ads used to call Glorious 70mm, everything suddenly makes sense – even the fact that a sixteen-year-old and a seventeen-year-old in love, and with no adult supervision around, would not tear the clothes off each other, but instead… dance! Because what, on the small screen, is two people doing silly bunny-hops is in the movie hall a series of pinpoint-precision balletic leaps, each mid-air pause occurring at the precise instant of a six-track-sound-system cymbal crash.

It all goes back to the beginning, really! You’re in your seat, the curtain rises, the 20th Century Fox fanfare happens, then, suddenly, you’re flying through the Alps, past the mountains, past the lake, and the violins come to a crescendo, and you spot Julie Andrews, and she turns and launches – in a key high enough to complement your own sensation of movie-screen vertigo – into The Heeeells Are Alive… That moment takes you out of your seat and into the screen, into the lives of the von Trapps. That moment, you’re sold.

It’s a bit ironic that I’m making all this fuss about why The Sound of Music experience isn’t The Sound of Music experience unless you’ve seen it on the big screen – and it’s to coincide with the film’s 40th anniversary special-edition DVD. But that 70mm experience is needed only once – to see why this is corn, yes, but still a classic. After that, a DVD can actually help you skip the cornier bits and get to the more classic ones.

Christopher Plummer’s beautiful baritone navigating Edelweiss, for instance – with just a caress of the guitar, with his children sprawled around on the floor. (He’s singing of a wistful past, his future at his feet.) Plummer and Andrews circling each other tentatively before finally admitting they’re in love. (And beautifully so. She’s a nun; so she invokes the concept of karma to justify why she’s landed this worthy man: “Somewhere in my youth or childhood/I must have done something good.â€?) The tension in the sequence where the Nazis train the searchlights on the family trying to escape – a brilliantly sustained piece of suspense, ruined only by the elder daughter’s drama-queen moment of discovery that among these beasts is the boy she once loved. (Hey, I said it was corn!)

It wasn’t just as if they decided to string together a comedy track (a klutzy nun? hyuk, hyuk!), a romantic angle (a widower finding love late in his life, ooh!), a love triangle (icy, high-society Baroness vs. country-fresh Maria, let the games begin!), and then asked Rodgers and Hammerstein to craft some of the most enduring songs ever. This is old-school Hollywood craftsmanship at its best. Those old pros – they really knew when to zoom into star-wattage close-ups, when to cut away to scenery, when to bring on an apple-cheeked child to tug at the heartstrings, when to bring out the showstopping numbers. The Sound of Music is nothing if not proof that when you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.

Copyright ©2005 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: English