THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

P00292H.jpg“My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”

I can’t tell you how many times I watched this film as a child with my sister. We were obsessed with every actor, every plot twist, and every song (well, maybe not the one the head nun sings – “Climb Every Mountain” was an awkward skip track in the movie for us and we would giggle at the weirdness of delivery as we would fast forward our way through). It was a treat to get to watch this with Mouse for the first time. Even David seemed to get excited for some of the songs – he recognized “Do a Deer” from his Rhythm Babies music class which was an added bonus!

I don’t know how you talk about this film without just saying it is a must-watch classic. I will say, though, that I did recently read a piece on “Edelweiss” that posed some questions about potentially troubling connections it could have to nationalistic white identity. In the film, that song plays the role of a beautiful, defiant protest anthem, so it was sad to grapple with. I still need to do a little digging on that. However, my heart exploded watching the Captain, father of the Von Trapp family, tear up a Nazi flag. Very appropriate for the world we currently live in.

I want someone to make me a GIF of Christopher Plummer pulling down the Nazi flag tearing it apart so I can watch it over and over. Get on it, readers!

I signed off our last entry expressing gratitude we’d ‘sort of’ pulled something lighter from the Randomizer. And yes, The Sound of Music is easier to take in than Platoon; a family oriented musical about finding love and happiness, photographed in beautiful bucolic locations. But there is an unmistakable dark current through the movie: the rise of National Socialism, culminating in the film’s third act concerning Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich and the von Trapp family’s escape.  A few years ago, Nazis seemed like stock baddies from a bygone time. Now their presence in the movie feels a lot closer to home. It may be unrealistic to think America is going to turn into Nazi Germany sometime soon, but we have seen the rise of political movements that embrace scapegoating, contempt for democracy, fawning servility toward authority figures, and overblown macho personae – the characteristics of the worst modern governments, like the one depicted in the film.

Agreed, “Climb Every Mountain” is one of the weaker numbers in the film. The songs with the von Trapps translate to the screen well. There’s either a lot of cross cutting between scenes to keep the energy going, or choreography, or some sort of interaction between the characters. “Climb Every Mountain” plays more like an aria. On screen, the camera just rests on a nun singing, every so often cutting to Julie Andrews acting like she’s silently soaking it all in. I’m sure it worked a lot better on stage.

So for some reason, after watching this film I started getting ads in my Facebook feed for a children’s show with Julie Andrews that seems to be new that looked pretty good. I think one friend had mentioned it to me, to be fair – but I am always flabbergasted by these advertising algorithms.

I want to mention that the character Max in the film is very enjoyable. He is referred to in moments as Uncle Max, though it is unclear if he is actually any relation to the von Trapp family whatsoever. He pushes for the group to make public performances, and is a whimsical presence contrasted with the Captain. I’ve never seen this work on a stage, but watching it this most recent time made me realize I would probably really enjoy it. However, I can’t imagine anyone besides Julie Andrews as Maria. She’s simply pitch-perfect in the role, and will be etched on my memory indelibly for that casting forever. Decades later, I still remember all these tunes and lyrics. That’s really something. Rodgers and Hammerstein were really onto something.

I guess it’s called the Great American Songbook for a reason. By the by, Richard Rogers was the first EGOT. He also won a Pulitzer, making him one of only two PEGOTs. I may or may not have invented that word.

It’s impossible to talk about The Sound of Music without discussing how well the film exploits the gorgeous Austrian scenery. It opens with the famous shot of Julie Andrews with her arms outstretched, singing. The mountains come to symbolize liberation for the von Trapps, first metaphorically, then ultimately in the most literal sense as the terrain provides them a means to escape their Nazi pursuers.

I respect the movie for how it plays out Rolf’s character- convincing us to like him as a sweet kid for the first 2/3, then disappointing us with his moral failure at the climax. Aside from nudging the movie away from schmaltz, it’s entirely consistent with the lessons of history. You don’t see them, but these people are all around us; perfectly functional, seemingly upstanding folks. But there is something inside of them that is quietly waiting for the Leader to take power and get them kitted out in a brown-shirted uniform. Maybe it’s the nice kid who dates your daughter.  There is a Rolf in every American neighborhood. It’s depressing as hell, but true.

I am pretty excited that Mouse invented PEGOT. Now I am dying of curiosity to see who the second PEGOT is. Additionally, I want to try to use this film as a tool to get Mouse to travel with me to Europe and specifically Austria one day. My family used to live there and I had the pleasure of traveling there quite a bit.

The Rolfs of the world abound – those willing to sell out and harm other human beings, out of fear, out of hate, buying fully into scapegoating. Their ugliness will often be packaged as normalcy and it is incumbent on us to push back on them. It is incumbent on us to make them uncomfortable, to fight the idea that bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination are in any way normal.

There is a great quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that this entire discussion calls to mind. I refer to it often. Here it is:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

We as white people should think of this quote every time we confront a Rolf.

Well, I like to think that a few years after this story, Rolf marched off to Stalingrad. Remember to pack warm socks, you fascist creep.

This was my first time watching The Sound of Music from beginning to end and I’m glad I got the chance; it’s easy to see why this is a perennial favorite. But should it have edged out Doctor Zhivago for the big prize? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Zhivago, but when people talk about movies being ‘epic’, that’s what they’re talking about. The two films did tie for both number of Oscars and nominations in 1965. I’ve been looking for the right Saturday to try to convince Katy to watch Doctor Zhivago with me for years now. I wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to watch a David Lean movie- something with Omar Sharif or Alec Guinness maybe?

“Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face.”- overheard at the Snake Eyes Parade.

Also nominated in 1965:
Darling
Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns

Next film: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

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