The Sound of Music (1965)

Film Society of Lincoln Center: See it in 70mm!
December 25, 2012
Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street
event web site

  • “I always try to keep faith in my doubts.” (Mother Abbess)
  • “Oh dear, I like rich people. I like the way they live. I like the way I live when I’m with them.” (Max Detweiller)
  • “These walls were not built to shut out problems, You have to face them. You have to live the life you are meant to live.” (Mother Abbess)
  • “Only grown up men are scared of women.” (Kurt Von Trapp to his siblings, watching the adults dance)

This Christmas day in New York City found me without my spouse in close proximity (he visited family in Ohio for a quick 36 hours) so I woke when I wanted, snacked as I liked, and took advantage of a screening of a gorgeous new 70mm print of The Sound of Music at my neighborhood theaters run by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I was hipped to this adventure after I posted some snippets of lyrics while dipping in and out of a commercial television network airing of the film a few nights before. A few fragments of lyrics, some favorites of mine from “Something Good”, posted as a Facebook status generated an unexpected and entertaining array of social network warmth of connections to this film. Childhood friends, new friends, people with whom I share connections only to other performers, people of all ages reacting passionately and immediately to those lyric phrases. One of the responses included a filmmaker friend who mentioned the Film Society was planning to show a refurbished 70mm print on Christmas Day. I took note.

Original soundtrack LP cover that set my 7-year-old heart a-yearning.
Original soundtrack LP cover that set my 7-year-old heart a-yearning.

My first exposure to The Sound of Music as a child was during its initial release. I was the age of the Van Trapp daughter Marta in the film (I loved that fact at the time) and connected to the tunes and to the colors and to the kids. I was soon gifted (perhaps at Christmas that year) with the LP recording, and I recall my wonder and amazement at the fact that the tunes on the turntable captured my memories of what I’d seen at least once on the big screen of our local movie theatre. Before videos and DVDs, budding musical theatre kids in general, and this ballad-loving kid in particular, would spend hours and hours listening and re-listening to these kinds of recordings, with original or sometimes alternate studio takes of the sequences we remembered on screen. If we were lucky there would be smatterings of dialogue (I think of the tuneful patter song “I Love to Laugh” from a similarly absorbed LP of Mary Poppins in this vein).  For the most part we made do with images on the LP covers and our memories, and lived in the aural pictures painted. (For those of you taking notes, it was only two years later that my Mom introduced me to Judy at Carnegie Hall — the fact I was a little show tune loving, ballad adoring kidlet did not escape the attention of the adults in my household.)

This screening at the Walter Reade of a luscious print provided the expected reactions: warm smiles, tears at “Edelweiss,” indulgent groans at the sappier moments, enchantment with the scenery. This screening also gave me new appreciation of subtle shadowy moments that are perfectly in tune with the undercurrents of fascism and repression and life choices and lurking dangers throughout this film.  Images arrested me.

An Austrian Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) with seven children who has been widowed a few years. A free-spirited nun Maria (Julie Andrews) of a cloistered order who is sent by her indulgent and understanding Reverend Mother (Peggy Wood) to act as governess to the children aged 5 to 17 in theoretical movie years (our 17-year-old is played by a women in her mid-20s).  Tending of children leads to attachments among the adults that lead to love amidst the Nazi invasion of Austria and other life choices. And in these visual ruminations, many of these sequences take place in delectable shadowy imagery.

Theme: Life Changes Take Contemplation and Gumption

Maria emerges from shadows somberly walking, examining the world she leaves behind, then resolves to skip, cavort, and gut her way through her new adventures. The tune that accompanies this journey of walking, running, skipping, splashing, and taking a bus has always suggested to me that William Wyler borrowed liberally from it for “Don’t Rain on My Parade” a few years later in Funny Girl (1968).  But that’s a tale for another set of ruminations.

Maria emerges from the Abbey dressed in the last outfit left by a new arrival, and armed only with one suitcase, her guitar, and her grit.

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Theme: Life Changes Can Involve Shtick and Swinging Suitcases

A bit further on her journey from the  Abbey to the Von Trapp Family home for the first time, Maria dances and cavorts to her own tune of courage and tenacity and hope — “I  Have Confidence” — written for the movie. While examining this sequence for the upteenth time now, as an adult, I suddenly recalled that I and my childhood playmates would “play Maria” by swinging parcels in our hands in precisely this manner. There is much here for a child of any age to appreciate. And shadows and light.

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Theme: Exploring Forbidden Areas Can Get You Into Trouble

Maria wanders uninvited into an unused “music room” when she first arrives at the house, and walks by dusty beauty, shrouded chandeliers  and indulges as any child would love to in shadow play. Until the Captain arrives.

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Theme: Perpetual Anticipation in Lovely Surroundings Works at Every Age

The oldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl (Charmain Carr) and Maria herself provide romance angles in this story. Liesl has a youthful infatuation with Rolfe (Daniel Truhitte) the telegram carrier and future Nazi. Maria falls for the Captain who is romantically entangled with the Baroness (Eleanor Parker), but this is finally sorted  Both have trysts at night in the gardens, and shots down the pathway toward the Lake and the grounds are luscious and full of edgy shadows.

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Theme: Gentle Hugs and Kisses are More Romantic Than Gymnastics

Maria and the Captain speak of finding each other, of the fates that brought them together, and muse that they must have done “Something Good.” Another tune written just for the film — an adult love ballad, with hints of schmaltz.

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Theme: Performance and Patriotism and Political Power Can Combine in Scary Ways

Soldiers in the shadows and brute force waiting to be expressed at the Salzburg Folk Festival where the Von Trapp Family Singers will be performing. The patriotic audience singing along to “Edelweiss” annoys the Nazis in Austria as much as the crowd singing “La Marseillaise” aggravates Major Strasser in Casablanca.  This sequence begins with the full family on stage, guarded securely by soldiers visible in most wide shots, and ends with them successfully exiting the stage on their first step to freedom. The moments work in life, in politics, in movie making.

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Theme: Little Moments Mean a Lot

This cinematic beacon of hope and paean to family and patriotism and singing a happy tune did not for me suddenly become a film noir completely composed of sinister shadows and unspoken longings on this Christmas day in 2012. Yes, those elements were more front and center during this delightful screening of a luminous 70mm print. Yet I shall not engage in rewriting the story line to fit these themes and these observations. I’ll conclude with another light-filled small moment that emerged for me with this watching, after my husband mentioned it while we watched the film on the small screen.  The small detail of Maria urging little Gretl (Kym Karath) to bestow her token on the Baroness — before the love relationships among the adults got all sorted out.

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Shadows and light. Script and subtext. On a big screen in 70mm or a home flat screen — this movie is enhanced by appreciation of color palate and composition, and also can be summed up as an edelweiss bouquet in a child’s extended fist.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 27, 2012)

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