The Sound of Music, 1965.
Directed by Robert Wise.
Starring Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood and Charmian Carr.
An energetic young nun, Maria, is appointed as the von Trapp family’s governess in 1930s Austria. Nazism is on the rise, and all are in potential danger.
“I wish I could say going to see a Sing-a-long version of The Sound of Music tonight is the most homosexual thing I’ve ever done…” I tweeted the day of the screening. I figured it would make the Top Three, but then a great number of people promptly reminded me of many far more homosexual things I’ve done. Being kissed by a man in drag at a nightclub called the Tranny Shack, for instance.
There was a man in drag at The Prince Charles, too, acting as the night’s compere. He was of the upper range of transvestites, gracefully wearing a big wig and shiny gold frock, with a tongue so acidic it could corrode Pete Burns’ face clean off.
“Have we got any birthday parties here tonight?” he shouted at us with both enthusiasm and disdain in equal measure. This set off a gaggle of forty-year old women to my immediate left. One of them was celebrating getting another summer under her slightly stretched belt. All of them were dressed as nuns from some lost Carry On film.
As were a lot of the audience. Two young ladies who had come as a very convincing puppet and puppeteer won the Best Dressed Award; an eight-year-old girl received a heartfelt “awww” as she shyly wore her von Trapp costume. Everyone was drunk already. Even the eight-year-old.
Having never seen The Sound of Music before, this all felt like a Wicker Man-esque cult (which is also getting the sing-a-long treatment soon), some sub-sect of society of which I had only just become privy. Pretty much every single joke went over my head in the foreplay. I went through two pints before the film even started to dull my nerves. I’m Louis Theroux, I’d mutter under my breath. I’m Louis Theroux.
The compere went through the various rules and moments of audience interaction. Each of us had a bag of objects that we were to display at the appropriate times. They weren’t afraid of spoilers. The party popper looked promising.
The house lights went down, the man in high heels clip-clopped offstage and the first chords of ‘The Sound of Music’ rumbled over the film’s opening shots of an expansive, green countryside. We’d been told to supply our own animal sound effects, and people got pretty inventive.
Then she ran up onscreen and toward the camera, Maria (Julie Andrews), singing about how she loves to be amongst nature with a complete lack of irony. Musicals, eh?
Maria is a nun in 1930s Austria, just as the Nazi party was beginning to rise to power, who seems more attracted to the abbey’s singing rather than any devotion to a God. She’s a bit of a rogue, always late, head in the clouds, which sends the older nuns into a rendition of ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’ Packing her off to be a governess for the von Trapp estate is one way.
The von Trapps’ is a sad tale. The head of the household, Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), had lost his wife years before. Deeply affected by her death, he has cordoned off his emotions, instilling in his children a military-like discipline. He blows a whistle to summon them, to which they line up in height order for him to inspect. The children aren’t given attention like they were used to. This is implied rather than explicitly stated.
In retaliation, all seven of the von Trapp children play cruel tricks on anyone sent to mind them. This doesn’t bode well for Maria, but she’s stronger and less conventional than the others. Over time, she breaks them down with kindness, and eventually provides the warmth they’ve missed since their mother passed away.
She makes them clothes out of old curtains and teaches them to sing (‘Do-Re-Mi’). The children much prefer her to the Captain’s lady friend, Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Eleanor Parker, who we have to ‘boo’ whenever she appears onscreen). After a while, it seems as though the Captain does too.
Because when Maria is around, there’s a faint twinkle in the widow’s eyes and a subtle smirk waiting patiently at the corner of his mouth. The music and backdrop of the rise of Nazism are both superb, but the true heart of the film is the Captain’s. Maria is charming, but she finishes with the same character as she begins – deliriously happy. The Captain, however, has to be warmed up. Then he finds himself caught between the manipulative Baroness and his affection for Maria. A similar development is seen between the Captain and his children, which he has overlooked for so long.
There’s a scene where the Captain hears music in his house for the first in a very long time. He had just shouted down Maria for letting the children run wild and ordered her to return to the abbey from which she came. He stands alone for a moment, and then the children’s voices singing a reprise of ‘The Sound of Music’ drift into shot. Enchanted, he follows their voices through the house, a smile slowly forming on his face, to a room where the children are singing to the Baroness. A shot holds on his reaction, and then a reverse shows the scene upon which he is looking. This level of profoundness is rarely seen in cinema these days – particularly in the musical genre. And it’s all generated by something as simple as the Kuleshov effect: a shot of someone staring, followed by a shot of the subject of their gaze.
An immense weight appears to be lifted from off of his shoulders. When was the last time the children sang? Probably when their mother was alive. They were much happier times. Perhaps it’s time to let the music back in.
And that music is personified in Maria – a source of joy and rebirth. Her and the Captain belong together. That’s what the party popper is for.
365 Days, 100 Films