Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sound of Music (Best Picture 1965)

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears!

Has anyone not seen The Sound of Music? I suppose those of you reading this who might be under 30 may never have seen it, as it has not been on network television for nearly ten years. If you have not seen it, you should go to the library or your nearest bookstore or Target and get a copy. In may ways, The Sound of Music epitomizes Broadway and Hollywood musicals of the Fifties and Sixties. Besides that, the film and its music are such an important part of US (world?) popular culture that you really owe it to yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...

Director Robert Wise starts the film in a similar way to how he opened West Side Story, namely, by showing us various scenes of the locale from the air until he eventually goes to extreme close-up on Julie Andrews as Fraulein Maria, singing, "The Sound of Music."  It is funny to think that the helicopter that took that great panoramic shot knocked Julie Andrews down each time it flew by her. Watch carefully and you'll see that the beginning of the song is an entirely new shot.

Fraulein Maria is a postulate at the Salzburg Abbey, studying to be a nun. However, she is not fitting in, and the elder nuns are not sure what to do with her.
She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee, her dress has got a tear. 
She waltzes on her way to Mass and whistles on the stair! 
And underneath her wimple she has curlers in her hair 
I've even heard her singing in the abbey!

Mother Superior has been asked to supply a governess to the Von Trapp Family, so decides to dispatch Maria to the family to test her fortitude and devotion. A Captain and seven children? What's so fearsome about that? With confidence in herself she meets her charges and The Captain, making an impression on all of them by refusing to answer to his ship's whistle call for her. Liesl, the eldest, doesn't need a governess, as she is already sixteen (going on seventeen). Maria tries to remember all of the children's names, but they definitely have the advantage over her. Later, in Maria's bedroom, as Maria and Liesl start to break the ice, the other children arrive, too, because of the frightening thunderstorm. They share a song, talking about their favorite things.

When the dog bites when the bee stings when I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad!

After The Captain goes on another of his trips to Vienna, Maria takes the children on picnics and hikes and jaunts, having fun and enjoying each others' company. When their father returns to Salzburg with Baroness Schroeder, he is non-plussed to find his children dressed in play-clothes, enjoying themselves. In the emotional lynch-pin of the film, Maria and The Captain argue about the way he is raising his children, depriving them of love because of his sadness at their mother's death. The Captain fires Maria, then suddenly hears his children singing to the Baroness. No matter how often I watch this, it brings a tear to my eye every time.

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
and I'll sing once more

Later, at a party at the villa to introduce The Baroness to Salzburg society, she, Maria, and The Captain all realize that Maria and The Captain are in love. Maria escapes back to the abbey, hoping to become a nun and forget the Von Trapp Family. Mother Superior tells her she has to face her problems, so sends her back to the villa. The Captain gives up The Baroness, and the two ask the children if it would be all right for them to get married. While they are on their honeymoon, the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) occurs. The Captain is forcibly drafted into the German Navy. Rather than face that immoral prospect, the entire family attempts to flee to Switzerland. They are escorted to the Salzburg Folk Festival, where they perform and then successfully escape from the Nazis.
Climb every mountain, ford every stream
Follow every rainbow till you find your dream

This sound-track album was one of the first I ever owned. I love almost all of the songs. If I had to pick a favorite I would probably pick "Do-Re-Mi." Who doesn't know the Do-Re-Mi song, even if you have not actually seen the film? And the film of this song is just like an actual music video, filmed around various sites in Salzburg as they frolic to the music. It's just a fun song, filmed well, and oh so enjoyable. I can listen to that song all day. By the way, when I lived in Japan, I heard the Japanese version of this song. The words are all completely different, of course. Do=donut, re=lemon, mi=either "mikan" (mandarin oranges) or "minna" (everyone), fa="Fight!" (i.e. do your best), so="sora" (the sky), la="rappa" (trumpet), tea/she ="shiawase" (happiness). If you don't believe me, check out  Japanese Do-Re-Mi.

And of course, the story is very inspirational. I have read the autobiographical book, The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp. For some reason, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and musician Richard Rodgers changed the story in various odd ways for their Broadway musical. For example, they switched the genders of the two eldest children, and as the eldest girl was also named "Maria," they changed her name to Liesl. The real Von Trapps got married in the early Twenties, not March 1938 as they did in the movie. And they took a train out of Salzburg, not a mountain hike.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with string
These are a few of my favorite things 

Julie Andrews is wonderful as Maria. After portraying Mary Poppins the year before and Fraulein Maria here, her reputation as being "wholesome" was set. She did challenge several interesting roles later, such as in Torn Curtain, S.O.B., and Victor/Victoria, but for many millions she will always be "Maria." Christopher Plummer is handsome and aloof at the beginning of the film; it is not hard to see his heart melting as a man re-introduced to his children, music, and love, all thanks to Julie Andrews. Eleanor Parker of course has the thankless job of portraying The Baroness, a real bitch. I guess that was the point: all The Captain saw in her was her cultured physical beauty. Richard Haydn plays The Captain's best friend, Max, but he never does enough to make him into a truly likeable character. He always comes across as something of a scoundrel and a parasite to me.

So long, farewell auf wiedersehen, adieu
Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.

A reunion of the entire "family" on Oprah's show in 2010!
The Sound of Music
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1965*
Produced by Robert Wise
Directed  by Robert Wise
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II 
and Richard Rodgers
Based on the original stage musical 
Book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
Originally produced by 
Leland Hayward, Richard Halliday, 
Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein II
What a great trailer!
Coincidentally, there are two Lost In Space connections here.
One, of course, is Angela Cartwright as Brigitta.
She went on after this film to portray "Penny" on Lost in Space.
The other is the narrator of this trailer: Dick Tufeld,
who was the voice of The Robot on that series!

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns
Darling was the "hip" story of the model who sleeps her way to success; it won Julie Christie the Best Actress Oscar. Doctor Zhivago also starred Julie Christie, this time teamed with Omar Sharif in a love story set against the Russian Revolution. I remember seeing it in high school and thinking it was long and somewhat dull, not really the adjectives you think of when thinking of the Rusian Revolution. The score won an Oscar for Maurice Jarre; his song "Lara's Theme" is still very well known. The other two nominees I had not heard of until I did research on this article.  Ship of Fools, Vivien Leigh's final film, was called "a Grand Hotel at sea." It also featured Lee Marvin, who won Best Actor for Cat Ballou, a terrifically funny Western. A Thousand Clowns is a comedy starring Jason Robards and Martin Balsam, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role. And Shelley Winters won her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the evil mother in A Patch of Blue, a drama where a blind white woman falls in love with Sidney Poitier.

And yes, that is my Japanese DVD at the top of this article. It has both English and Japanese tracks, but we always watch/listen to the English version!

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