Sound of Music, TheReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/09/05 15:39:51
I was having a fairly bad week, until I popped “The Sound of Music” into my DVD player. By the time Julie Andrews had hit that final high note in “Do-Re-Mi,” I was smiling. No, not just smiling. Beaming. And I couldn’t stop, even when I was busy getting choked up both times Christopher Plummer sang “Eidelweiss.”And wow, how powerful that “Edelweiss” reprise can be. It works as both a highly charged emotional moment - sung as a farewell to the country the Von Trapps may never see again - and a potent mix of music and politics on par with the “Marsellaise” scene in “Casablanca.” Here’s an entire crowd of Austrians singing, in unison, a lullaby tribute to their homeland, which in turn acts as a spit in the face of the invading Nazis who have just taken over their land and continue to claim that “nothing has changed.” With music, the people defiantly say otherwise.
Those final scenes work on a genuine suspense level (smartly manipulated by the director Robert Wise and editor William Reynolds - notice how this musical suddenly becomes devoid of music, and the absence makes things all the more tense). This is a bit surprising, however, since nothing that comes before is about thrills or dramatic tension. It is instead a movie of unadulterated wholesomeness, one in which the biggest crisis is where to get the material to make new clothes for the kids. Let’s face it: “The Sound of Music” is perhaps the cleanest, most purposefully pleasant, downright whitest movie ever made by Hollywood.
But it is never sickeningly so. On the contrary; Wise and his crew deliberately set out to dilute the sentimentality of the story by keeping performances relatively realistic in nature, the photography subdued and not oversaturated with color. They grounded it, and so this story - one that, when you boil it down, is about singing kids and nuns vs. the Nazis, and how utterly schmaltzy is that? - never plays as overbearing in its corniness. It’s inoffensive to a fault, yes, but it’s also thoroughly compelling for three hours straight. And we wouldn’t sit still for three full hours if the cheese was too ripe.
The film opens with somewhat of a nod to Wise’s previous musical, “West Side Story.” Whereas that film began with aerial shots of New York, this one starts off with majestic fly-by footage of the Austrian mountains. It’s a wonderful moment, beautifully captured in bigger-than-life widescreen. As this plays, we hear the orchestra slowly creep in, expanding their sound as we find Julie Andrews herself, walking across the hilltops, ready to break into song, in what’s one of the most recognizable scenes in movie history.
It’s easy to find this corny, especially as the clean-cut Andrews sings about the wonders of nature, but there’s an unbridled joy to the moment, and it’s just as easy to get sucked into the whole thing. “The Sound of Music” tells you right off the bat: this is not a movie for cynics, so check your gloominess at the door, if you please.
Our gloominess duly checked (don’t worry, you’ve got a claim ticket, you can be back to sulking after 175 minutes), we’re invited to sing along to such cheery tunes as “My Favorite Things,” “Maria,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” among so many others. This was the final collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and it’s some of their finest work. If nothing else, it’s certainly some of the most hummable; just try to shake “Do-Re-Mi” out of your noggin. Can’t do it.
Actually, it’s that goatherd song that’s stuck in my dome right now, and I don’t mind one bit. But while the music is what usually gets the most attention in this film (for good reason), let’s not overlook Wise’s contributions. As director, not only did he help subdue the corniness by keeping things as low-key as possible, but he also formed the pacing of the story - vital to movies of this length. And when not expertly fiddling with the ups and downs of the plot rhythms, Wise was busy crafting some stunning visuals. Just as “The Sound of Music” is a joy to hear, it’s also a joy to watch. The movie is filled with grand sights, even in unexpected moments; Wise turns the main hall of the Von Trapp estate into the centerpiece of some gorgeous cinema. Watch Maria’s arrival, or her departure right before intermission. These shots are beautifully framed, dwarfing Maria under the splendor of a magnificent interior set. This is one of those movies you can freeze-frame on your DVD player at random and always come up with a terrific image.
More than Wise, however, it can be argued that Andrews provided the biggest contribution to the film. Reynolds loved to joke that whenever he was stuck in some editing dilemma, he could always cut to Andrews. The actress, fresh off the star-making (and and even whiter white bread) “Mary Poppins,” was (and still is) the embodiment pure charm, and we want to smile every time she steps on screen. The combination of Andrew’s charisma and Maria’s lovable flightiness makes for one of those movie characters that brightens every frame. The fact that she’s a fine actress and an exceptional singer helps, too, ya know.So am I wrong for loving “The Sound of Music” so much? Am I a wuss or a cleancut doofus or something? Not at all. I’m just a guy who loves great storytelling, able to know that sappiness doesn’t necessarily always equal badness. When handled as well as Wise and company did here, even something as cornball as “The Sound of Mucus” (as Plummer often jokingly called it) can become a majestic film experience. There’s a reason this musical has won the hearts of so many: because it’s a great movie all around, but more than that, watching it just makes you feel wonderful.
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