Revisiting The Sound of Music

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That ear-splitting, glass-shattering sound you hear is me, yodeling. I’ve been doing it for the past several days, ever since I took Nicolas to see “The Sound of Music,” and I can’t stop. It’s fun and it drives my kid nuts, which provides an extra layer of enjoyment.

I’ve seen “The Sound of Music” a million times. It was a childhood favorite of mine, as it has been for so many people, and my parents and I always looked forward to its annual broadcast on television. It was event viewing, back when such a thing still existed. But! My father, who loved musicals and taught me to love them, too, taped it one year (on Beta, no less), so eventually I could watch it whenever I wanted. And I did — along with listening to the soundtrack album and rehearsing a stage production with the neighborhood kids. (As the youngest, I got the part of Gretl, naturally.)

Still, I hadn’t seen “The Sound of Music” in its entirety since my youth in Woodland Hills, and I’d never seen it in an actual theater on a big, beautiful screen. So when I got the chance recently to revisit the movie in 70mm on the Fox lot, of course I had to jump at it, and I had to bring my own child with me. Now, Nicolas insists he hates musicals — which is clearly untrue, since one of his favorite TV shows is “Phineas and Ferb,” where they cleverly break into song in every episode. But I knew that, as a 7-year-old, he’d enjoy himself on the most basic level, just as I did long ago. He’d giggle at the kids’ antics and get into the catchiness of all those classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.

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I also wondered how I’d respond to it, decades later, through grown-up eyes as a longtime film critic. Would I cringe at its earnestness, or cry out of sheer nostalgia? The answer is: a little bit of both. I noticed much more in terms of subtext and subtlety of performance — both of which would seem to be in short supply in such a rousing, crowd-pleasing musical. But I also appreciated the complexity of the lyrics and the choreography, and the brisk pacing that makes Robert Wise’s three-hour Oscar-winner zip by. (Besides best picture and director, the 1965 film also won Academy Awards for sound, film editing and music.)

It began as a battle, though. Nicolas complained the whole way over, insisting he didn’t want to see it and complaining he was bored during the 10 minutes or so that we had to wait in our seats beforehand. When Julie Andrews crests that grassy knoll at the film’s start, twirling and singing joyously about the hills being alive with the sound of music in the film’s signature image, Nic leaned over to me without missing a beat and said: “Terrible!” in sing-songy tones.

But I knew it would be OK. And it was. I caught him laughing when the Von Trapp children march their way down the stairs and stomp forward to announce their names at the sound of their whistle signals. (The frog they secretly stuffed in Fraulein Maria’s pocket also was good for a cackle.) He was totally into “Do-Re-Mi” — he had a huge smile on his face and tapped his hand on his knee to the beat of the music. And as Captain Von Trapp is driving home after being away in Vienna wooing the Baroness (Eleanor Parker), with his seven children dangling from the trees in play clothes made of drapes, Nicolas asked me: “Is he back? Are they in trouble? Gulp!” And again soon afterward: “Spoil if they get into trouble or not.”

“You’ll see …,” I said.

Later, he burst into a wide smile at the very sight of the first ridiculous-looking puppet during “The Lonely Goatherd.” (And he’d already heard me singing that song around the house — hence, the aforementioned yodeling.)

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But this number was one of many that made me realize, as an adult, the great talent and craft that went into making this movie. These people are working their asses off. And even though it’s relevant to the scene that Maria is noticeably wiped after such a taxing performance, Julie Andrews makes it all look so breezy and effortless. She just radiates joy in this film, and has such a winning presence that she even makes some of the cornier moments bearable. (The reprise of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” which Maria and Charmain Carr’s Liesl sing to each other after Maria and Captain Von Trapp return from their honeymoon, is a prime example. It’s a totally needless song — it’s a stretch — but she sells it because she’s such a pro.)

Other things I noticed as a grown-ass person:

— The first shot of the movie is not, in fact, what you see in the above photo but rather helicopter images of clouds and snow-covered mountains accompanied by the sound of chilly wind. It was a little disconcerting at first.

— Wise, working from Ernest Lehman’s script, really takes his time creating a sense of place at the convent before Maria leaves to serve as governess of the Von Trapp children. I found myself crying at “Maria,” possibly out of a sense of nostalgia, but also because of the sheer beauty of the nuns’ voices and their harmonies. Plus, the imagery in the lyrics is so vivid: “How do you keep a wave upon the sand? … How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” They don’t write ’em like they used to.

— Christopher Plummer: Good lord, he was a babe.

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— I was fascinated by the bike choreography in “Do-Re-Mi.” How did they all not crash into each other? How many takes did that section require? Wondering all this nearly took me out of the rapturous glee of that song.

— Wise and editor William Reynolds move so well between songs. The pacing throughout the film is really fluid and spry, but never at the expense of character or story.

— I never realized what a bad-ass Peggy Wood was. As the Reverend Mother at the abbey, she’s the voice of reason, which sounds like an understated role. But she brings such wisdom and presence to it, she’s a quietly powerful force.

— Max Detweiler is gay???

— Baroness Schrader’s body-clinging, gold-shimmering party dress: It is a stunner. I want it now.

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UPDATE, Sunday, Feb. 12: Nicolas is singing “Do-Re-Mi” absentmindedly to himself around the house while he plays. I WIN.

3 Comments on “Revisiting The Sound of Music

  1.  by  Krishna

    The Sound of Music was my first introduction to Hollywood musicals in the early 90s when I was a teenager growing up in India. I grew up watching India musicals, which is pretty much every movie. I was mesmerized by the sheer scale of this movie and was hooked on Hollywood musicals like West Side Story, Wizard of Oz. and Singin in the Rain. Though this was not my intro to Hollywood movies (that credit goes to The Godfather which I watched it when I was 10), after this one I became a true Hollywood movie addict. The one thing I noticed between Hollywood and Indian musicals is the Hollywood musicals tend to further the story along. Whereas Indian musicals just abruptly pause the story (considering if there is any) and dive into some dream sequence in exotic locales. I haven’t had the chance to see The Sound of Music on the big screen ever, but I could only imagine the pure joy you felt Christy. I was glad to see La La Land trying to capture some of that magic from a golden era. Thanks for the review.

  2.  by  Gerardo Valero

    When I first met my wife (then girlfriend) “The Sound of Music” was the only movie she owned on home video (it was a VHS copy though, believe it or not, my Beta machine still works to this day). As a result I ended up watching it more times than I cared to count and eventually it ended up rubbing on me. When we visited Salzburg a few years ago, we even made our own little tour of the film’s locations.
    Curiously, the last conversation we had with our mutual friend Roger was about how it could ever be that he, who went through every film ever made by mankind, had never watched “The Sound of Music”. He mostly skipped the issue so I didn’t press too much. The year before he died I made up my mind to write something about “The Sound of Music” on his site as to convince him to see it but I found it difficult to express what I liked about it without sounding too nostalgic or pointing out its numerous unintentional laughs (the image of the smallest girl’s gigantic cheeks while listening to her father sing “Edelweiss” get me everytime). At the end time just caught up with me and I lost my chance. Your review does a very good job Christie of expressing what I like about the movie. Thanks!

    •  by  john lawler

      The germane question, amigo, is what version of the film you young lovebirds first saw in Mexico? Can’t help but wonder how ‘Edelweiss’ would sound dubbed in Spanish.

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