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A Guilty Pleasure
by Asa Butcher
2008-05-12 08:59:24
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The Sound of Music
Directed by Robert Wise
1965, 20th Century Fox

From the opening scene of Julie Andrews, swirling around on top of a grassy Alpine hilltop, belting out "The hills are alive…" to the Salzburg Music Festival audience all singing "Edelweiss", there is nothing better than to sit back and immerse yourself in The Sound of Music, a cinematic world packed full of singing nuns, clothes tailored from curtains, Nazis, catchy tunes, vomit-inducing children and a long list of favourite things - there's even an intermission!

At a time when Austria is suffering from further revelations about certain disturbed citizens, I felt it befitting the country to travel back 43 years to Robert Wise's Best Picture 1966 winner set in the beautiful Salzburg countryside during the period leading up to Anschluss, the 1938 annexation of Austria into Greater Germany by the Nazi regime. You may think that this is a strange background for a love story between Maria, a wannabe nun (Andrews), and Georg Ludwig von Trapp, a retired submarine commander (Christopher Plummer), with seven children, but it was actually based on a true story.

The real Maria von Trapp was not fond of the movie depiction and was once quoted as saying, "It's a nice story, but it's not my story!" Pah! What does she know! Okay, quite a bit, but when I chose The Sound of Music as my next Best Picture critic because it had the lyric "Me, a name I call myself" and it fitted our 'ME' theme issue I wasn't really enthusiastic about it. It had been a number of years since I last watched it and I have never been a fan of musicals, so when the three-hour epic began I fidgeted in my seat for bit.

'What's a bit?' I hear you ask, well it was exactly four-minutes; the time it took the camera to fly in over the Alps and zoom in to Julie Andrews perched on that hilltop. It is a great opening scene to a movie made even better by Andrews' horrific haircut and when the intermission pops up you can't believe you are halfway through. The characters, the plot, the songs and the look just draw you in until you too are frolicking around Salzburg naming some of your favourite things.

When I read that Christopher Plummer intensely disliked working on the film, referring to it as "The Sound of Mucus", and likened working with Julie Andrews to "being hit over the head with a big Valentine's Day card, every day," I couldn't help but smile because she really is a spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine to do down… The Sound of Music was made two years after Julie Andrews won the Best Actress award for Mary Poppins and she was afraid that the two roles were far too similar, but it only helped to establish her in the hearts of her fans even more and she even received a second Academy Award nomination.

One of the first films that I saw starring Christopher Plummer was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and he was under heavy Klingon make-up in his General Chang role, but he was still one of the jewels of that film. He may have hated making "The Sound of Mucus", but he certainly did a good job as the widower estranged from his seven children, living in a regimented house bereft of laughter and music. His portrayal of the straight-laced retired captain slowly changing with the arrival of Maria is fun to watch, plus he delivers some of the best lines: "Oh, there's nothing wrong with the children. Only the governesses."

In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #40 Greatest Movie of All Time (#39 Dr. Strangelove & #41 King Kong) and it certainly deserved its five Academy Awards from ten nominations, so why don't you (re)discover the guilty pleasure of Robert Wise's The Sound of Music and sing-a-long with Maria, Georg, Leisl, Friedrich, Louisa, Brigitta, Kurt, Marta and Gretl? Come on: Doe, a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun, Me, a name I call myself…

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Emanuel Paparella2008-05-12 11:56:12
Ah, times of innocence, Mary Poppins, the Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, when the American Broadway musical held sway. The Sound of Music was in fact a musical before it was a movie. There were also two German movies of the Von Trapp family previous to the Sound of Music: Die Trapp Familie (1956) and a sequel, Die Trapp Familie in America (1958), a book published in 1949 titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers and an autobiography titled Maria (1972) which confirm the distortions in the movie as pointed out by the real Maria Von Trapp who indeed never recognized the musical as her story. Indeed there is the reality and then there is the fantasy of art and music: the true story was a mere pretext for a musical: the real Maria was in fact not as sweet as Julie Andrew was in The Sound of Music; she had a temper that would erupt from time to time. Moreover, Georg was not a disciplinarian and musical philistine of sort as portrayed in the movie but had already taught his children much about music. All that Maria did was to teach them madrigals. Another distortion in the movie is that of portraying the family as running before Nazis over the Alps and into Switzerland with their musical instruments. In fact they escaped to Italy inconspicuously in a train for a singing tour to America. That was easy since Georg was born in Zadar (present day Croatia) which had been annexed to Italy in 1920. That made him and his whole family Italian citizens (later they were to became American citizens but not Georg who remained an Italian citizen till his death); from Italy they went to London and took a ship to America.

Emanuel Paparella2008-05-12 12:04:50
(coninued from above)

Eventually the family, their visa expired, returned to Europe for a singing tour in Scandinavia and then back to America for another tour when they asked for asylum which was granted and the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, in a bucolic farm resembling the Salzburg countryside. Having lived there myself for a while I can testify that they couldn’t have chosen a more similar place; the whole state is green and bucolic with two cows for every person. The farm was eventually converted in the Van Trapp Lodge in 1950 and it is still there today open to the public. Indeed, the me of art is quite different from the real me but that is fine since imagination is integral part of art.

Clint2008-05-12 22:08:54
One of my special Lady's favourite films and seems to play on our TV at regular intervals sometimes unfortunatly when Im at home.

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