Blog Directory CineVerse: A few of our favorite things about "The Sound of Music"

A few of our favorite things about "The Sound of Music"

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Adjusted for inflation, "The Sound of Music" remains the third highest-grossing film of all time, which speaks to its endless popularity and enduring appeal. In celebration of its 55th anniversary this month, here are multiple reasons why it continues to capture our hearts.

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It still matters, above all, because it remains arguably the greatest songbook for a major musical. 
    • Almost all of the dozen or so songs featured in the film are all-time classics, and several are standards covered by artists across many genres, including “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Maria,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and the title track. 
    • This music is woven so firmly into the public consciousness and pop culture that most film watchers know the lyrics by heart, as evidenced by the popularity of sing-a-long theatrical reissues and costumed events over the years and the fact that the soundtrack album has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. 
    • With most movie musicals, you might like half of the songs or a couple of standout numbers. Here, it can be argued that at least eight of the 11 main songs are instant classics. 
    • Interestingly, as with “The Wizard of Oz,” the vast majority of songs appear in the first half of the movie, in this case nine of the 11 main songs, not including reprises.
  • It matters, as well, because of the synergy of the great talents behind the production, from the timeless tunes of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein to the fantastic screenplay adaptation by Hollywood legend Ernest Lehmann to the scintillating singing and performance of Julia Andrews—here in her absolute prime—to the steady direction of Robert Wise, a filmmaker already known by the time for helming a handful of classics and who won the Oscar for best director here.
  • It has stood the test of time because, despite complaints by some of being schmaltzy or saccharine, it’s eternally crowd-pleasing and immensely joyful, it’s fairly accurate as a true story about how a woman brought life and love into a family, and it remains one of the best pictures about a family and for kin to enjoy together. 
    • In fact, this movie is the last of its kind in a way: It marks the end of the family-friendly Hollywood musical—at least a musical that has remained widely beloved by movie fans. Yes, in the immediate years after “The Sound of Music” you had “Doctor Doolittle,” “Oliver!,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and a few other all-ages-appropriate musicals, but none of these are as rewatched and treasured today as “The Sound of Music.”
  • The third act, in which the Nazi threat to the family grows, adds tension and historical reality to the film. This helps neutralize any frothy or sappy elements, underscores the family’s suddenly precarious status, and adds gravitas to the argument that they are stronger as a cohesive unit.
  • It has also aged very well because the studio lavished a large budget and generous TLC on the production. 
    • For example, it makes a difference that many exterior shots were, fittingly, filmed on location in Austria, lending the movie a cultural authenticity and architectural verisimilitude that couldn’t have been duplicated had the entire film been shot in Hollywood. The movie today continues to look rich and chromatically resonant, thanks to it being filmed in glorious 70 mm Todd-AO widescreen and produced with DeLuxe Color processing.
  • Despite being a family-friendly live-action musical—a genre that doesn’t appeal to as many people today as it did decades ago—the film doesn’t look or feel dated.
    • Part of the reason is that the songs remain so universally beloved and evergreen.
    • Another reason is that it’s a period story, set in late 1930s Austria, not mid-1960s America, when it came out.
    • Perhaps you can’t say the same thing about “West Side Story,” a film released just a few years earlier that depicts early 1960s street gangs that haven’t aged too favorably.
  • Above all, “The Sound of Music” matters because it was and remains immensely popular.
    • The film remained in theatrical circulation between 1965 and 1969—an amazing four-and-a-half years.
    • Consider that this was the first American movie to be completely dubbed, both music and dialogue, in a foreign language.
    • The picture was also a big hit in virtually every country where it ran, except Germany and Austria.
    • It continues to be one of the most performed musicals in the world, too.

How was the Sound of Music influential or set trends in any way?

  • This was the first studio musical to depict the dark threat of Nazism and this time of uncertainty in Europe just before World War II.
  • Without this movie, you probably don’t have modern live-action musicals like “Moulin Rouge,” “Mama Mia!,” and “The Greatest Showman.”
    • According to Pamela Hutchinson, writer for The Guardian, “perhaps the recent success of ‘The Greatest Showman,’ as well as other fan favourites such as ‘Mamma Mia!’...tell us critics and audiences want very different things from a musical. Where reviewers found ‘The Sound of Music’ slow, sugary and mendacious, audiences discovered a heartwarming story about childhood, and a series of catchy, upbeat songs.”
  • “The Sound of Music” continues to inspire artists and fans alike.
    • Ariana Grande’s song “7 Rings” from last year was inspired by “My Favorite Things.”
    • Lady Gaga sang four numbers from the film during the 2015 Oscars telecast.
    • It enjoyed a Broadway revival in 1998, it was staged as a live TV production on NBC in 2013 and remade again for the small screen 2 years later.
    • “Sound of Music” singalongs, which sometimes include costume-wearing attendees, play today in many cities.

Why did most critics pan this film when it was originally released in 1965, and how and why did “The Sound of Music’s” reputation as a film classic worthy of praise grow over the ensuing decades?

  • Critics of the day described the movie as “icky sticky,” “cosy-cum-corny” and "the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat", with audiences having been "turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs,” per a scathing notice by Pauline Kael.
  • Yet the film quickly went on to surpass “Gone With the Wind” as the all-time box-office king.
  • It has garnered an impressive current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 83%. And the American Film Institute has placed it high amongst several lists, slotting it as the 40th best American movie of all time in its 2007 Top 100 list, ranking it #4 on its list of the 100 greatest musicals, and naming three of its songs among the 100 best songs in American cinema.
  • This is kind of a rare example of a major blockbuster and Best Picture Academy Award winner that wasn’t very well received by movie reviewers when it opened but that today is regarded by most critics as an indisputable classic.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “The Sound of Music?”

  • The power of music and its ability to serve as a healing, unifying, and life-affirming force. Think about how Maria earns the trust and love of the children by singing to them and teaching them music; likewise, the Captain can relate to his children again through the magic of music.
  • Follow where your heart leads. Maria learns that her heart isn’t truly set on being a nun; instead, she has fallen in love with the captain, suffers a crisis of faith and doubt, but is advised by Mother Abbess to listen to her heart, “live the life you were born to live,” and marry the captain. Likewise, the captain realizes that he’s in love with Maria and decides to end his relationship with the baroness. Also, the captain cannot fathom working for the Third Reich; despite the risks, he decides to escape the country with his family.
  • Be true to yourself without conforming to sociocultural expectations. Consider how Maria is a free-spirited and outspoken dreamer, which makes her a bad nun-in-training and an undesirable governess to the captain, at least at first. But we see how her energetic, ebullient, permissive, and generous personality is what endears her to the children. If she was a submissive employee, the captain likely wouldn’t have fallen in love with her, either.
  • The key to a successful family and parenthood is spending quality time together, especially time having fun and being creative and expressive. The Von Trapps are at their best when they are singing and performing collectively, and, as their clever escape from the Nazis demonstrates, they survive and thrive as a collective unit when they work together.
  • There’s a kind of Cinderella fairy tale at work here, too, where we have a misfit princess-in-the-rough who falls for the handsome royal prince and wins his heart in the end.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • The fantastic scenery and cinematography have helped this movie age so gracefully.
  • Also, the incredible performance by Julie Andrews stands as a testament to the power of perfect casting.
  • A bit problematic is the fact that, with its large cast, most of the children aren’t well developed and lack interesting personalities.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • “The Sound of Music’s” greatest gift continues to be its songbook. Not only are these numbers instantly recognizable, hummable, and infectious, but they work so well to advance the story, characters, and relationships. Thanks often to genius lyrics, the songs eliminate the need for exposition, often propelling the narrative forward more efficiently than dialogue and action could. Case in point: the action of “Do-Re-Mi” takes place over several days, but is told in just a few short minutes.
  • We live in a cynical postmodern age when it’s easy to scoff at break-out-into-song musicals and too-good-to-be-true type stories about wholesome families. But it’s hard not to be moved by the story of the Von Trapps—considering that the core story we are shown actually happened—and its message that it’s never too late to fix a broken family. So another greatest gift is the movie’s power to inspire parents and families to work harder at showing love, patience, and kindness, and to find common interests. Maybe that common interest is singing, maybe it’s puppet shows, maybe its hiking in the mountains. Whatever it is, this film tells us there’s hope that even the most dysfunctional of families can change.
  • This is also a picture that takes us back to childhood—whether that’s because you remember first seeing and falling for it as a child, or because it’s easy to live vicariously through the Von Trapp children and the joy they experience in Maria’s presence.
  • Lastly, the incredible exterior visuals are a greatest gift. This is one of the great examples of a movie serving as a board of tourism-like marketing tool to get viewers immersed in and intrigued to visit a foreign country.
  • Just as “Manhattan” serves as a visual love letter to New York, “Amelie” poetically portrays Paris, Rome becomes a wonderfully romantic getaway in “Roman Holiday,” and “The Quiet Man” paints our imagination about Ireland green, “The Sound of Music” makes us want to vacation to Salzburg and explore Austria.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 55 years? Why or why not?

  • One probably doesn’t have to worry much about a 55-year-old film that remains this popular. It continues to be shown on broadcast television usually once a year on ABC, and now that Disney owns the rights and offers the movie on its streaming channel, it should continue to earn new generations of fans.

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