Wednesday, March 04, 2015
10:04 PM |
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Robert Wise's The Sound of Music (1965)
I first saw The Sound of Music --
Robert Wise's arguably restrained film adaptation of the otherwise diabolically saccharine Rodgers and Hammerstein musical -- in 1985 when it barrelled into my hometown of Dumaguete as a 20th anniversary re-screening, an event orchestrated by the local Rotary Club for a charity.
The ferocious hype that attended its coming was particularly memorable: people were going to my grade school to sell tickets to the film, which was scheduled to screen in one of the old downtown movie houses -- the elegant Art Deco-styled Park Theater in this case, which has since been converted into a soul-less department store specialising in ultra-cheap brickbats made in China. To buy a ticket became a badge of being in the wellspring of popular excitement -- and so I scraped up enough from my meagre allowance for my entry to the screening. My allowance was pittance in those days, so it must have been quite an effort to come up with the sum.
I was ten. Movies have always enchanted me, but The Sound of Music
came at a time when I had yet to come into my first personal golden era of ardent movie-watching. Up until that time, I had only succeeded in one crucial cinephilic turning point: being able to go to the movies without a chaperone, something I managed to pull off when I was nine, and I had watched Looney-Looney Bugs Bunny
by my lonesome at Ever Theater -- a terrifying and joyful experience.
I had no idea what the film was about -- only that it contained some singing, and there were children in it. The poster they displayed at the front of Park Theater had Julie Andrews as Maria traipsing through the Alpine hills with a guitar case in hand. She looked happy and inviting, but my classmates and I were excited by it because of the hype, and the fact that the older people around us were quite excited to see it once more on the big screen. In 1985, only twenty years had passed since its release, and I bet people then still had big memories of the film's original enchantments. These were the pre-Internet, pre-Betamax, pre-VHS days, so watching specific movies was very much a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical affair, and the moment a film had a fill of its run in your town, that was it. The prospect of seeing the movie once more in its full glory must have been an electrifying promise.
Park Theater was packed come screening day. I couldn't find my seat in the orchestra section -- and timid boy that I was, I found a spot near the back of the SRO crowd, never mind the three-hour running time. I remember that night as the first time I was completely enchanted by a movie, to feel for the first time cinema's power as the film unspooled and captivated everyone in the audience. The feeling of amazement was communal. From the moment the Alps and the hills near Salzburg came to view, to the moment when Maria appeared first as a speck in the horizon and then twirled to give us the film's signature song, I knew I was going to be in love with this film for the rest of my life.
It made me a believer in film magic.
Years later, I would learn of course that the film was not universally loved, that it had fervent critics, that its sweetness was an issue for many people. Later on, when I came to my discovery of the criticisms of Paulene Kael, I learned about the brickbats hurled the film's way for being agonisingly saccharine -- even Captain Von Trapp himself was reportedly ambivalent about its legacy. In my more jaded older years, I've come to regard many of these criticisms as true -- and yet a part of me still remains that ten-year-old boy who was so enraptured by the film, he'd go on to buy the cassette tape of the original soundtrack, and memorise every single song in the repertoire -- even the nuns' "Morning Hymn and Alleluia."
In turn I have become suspicious of the easy jadedness of critics when they lament about sentimentality in movies. Not everything has to be muscular and restrained and morose -- masculinist standards that are also responsible for the demonising of romance novels and the films of Nora Ephron. Properly handled, sentimentality has its place in popular culture -- and Robert Wise has done nothing short of a miracle in the handling of it in The Sound of Music
And what do I remember most about the film that should merit my selection of a "best shot"? This one, if only for its emblematic composition, where Maria comes to near the end of "I Have Confidence" -- a song originally written for the film version of the musical -- and confronts for the first time the enormity of the challenge she has been given.
Here is this massive mansion behind very intimidating gates -- imposing, cold, and seemingly fashioned like a trap. But she goes in anyway, and starts to weave her uncanny magic to dispel all of those things. It is a perfect metaphor for the film: behind its big gloss and blockbusterish juggernaut, it is actually just a tender film about falling in love.
A few years ago, after college, I found myself in a joyride with some friends, five of us in a small car. We were in our early thirties -- adults, in other words. And one of us (me
), for some reason, just started humming. And the humming became distinctly words. And the words were Maria's hopeful personal pep talk in "I Have Confidence":
"What would this daaaaaay be like..."
And somebody joined in with: "... I wonder."
It went on: "What would my future be..."
And somebody else joined in: "... I wonder."
And then we just started belting out together the rest of the song:
"This day could be so exciting, to be out in the world to be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing, oh what's the matter with me..."
And by the end of the song, we were shouting out the melody and the lyrics, giddy with laughter and with our sudden capacity for silliness, unbelieving of the fact that we somehow knew the entire lyrics of the song.
I think it was a perfect song for a unique moment. I understood in hindsight why we had to sing that song. And I'm glad it came from The Sound of Music
This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers' Hit Me With Your Best Shot Series over at The Film Experience.
Labels: film, life, memories, music
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