Saturday, March 7, 2015

Hating "The Sound of Music" All the Way to the Bank

The movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Lady Gaga sang a medley of songs at the Academy Awards and Julie Andrews hugged her on stage. New DVDs, books, and other celebrations, including cast reunions are taking place. But as this review of one of the books about The Sound of Music notes, there's an element of hatred behind the hoopla--people hate The Sound of Music, even while they rake in the dough:

From the beginning, nobody loved “The Sound of Music” but the audience. When it was announced that Ernest Lehman would write a script based on the Broadway hit, Burt Lancaster told him: “Jesus, you must need the money.” When asked to direct, Stanley Donen refused to have anything to do with it. When Lehman sounded out Gene Kelly about directing, he led his questioner to the door of his home and said, “Go find someone else to direct this piece of s---!”

On Broadway, by contrast, the show had come together easily. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II began writing the score early in 1959, rehearsals began in August and the show opened in November, after which it ran for three years. Bing, bang, boom.

But there was a sense among some critics and many show-business professionals that “The Sound of Music” was a step back from previous Rodgers and Hammerstein shows: A theme of racial tolerance had formed the dramatic spine of “South Pacific” (1949), while domestic violence was the core of “Carousel” (1945). By comparison, the journey of an Austrian naif from postulant nun to governess to Lady of the Manor seemed behind its time, particularly next to the emotionally violent “Gypsy,” which opened the same year. Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Herald-Tribune that “The Sound of Music” was “not only too sweet for words, but almost too sweet for music.” When Mary Martin, who originated the role of Maria, beat out Ethel Merman for the Tony Award for best actress in a musical, Merman spoke for many when she snarled, “How you gonna buck a nun?”
[other references call it a quip].

Those are pretty violent reactions--with a hint of anti-Catholicism. The original stage play contained a consistent anti-Nazi message with the Captain standing up against the supporters of the party. "There's No Way to Stop It" teaches him something about his fiancee's character as she and Max Detweiler try to convince him just to go along with the political changes that are coming for the sake of self-preservation. It is too bad they did not include it in the movie. The basis of much of the story is the Captain's true patriotism and defiance of fascism--and that still comes out in the movie without that song. That's why Edelweiss and the Landler are such important numbers.

The Catholic Herald highlights another critic, who really twists the story:

For instance in 2008 Bishop Richard Williamson, then a member of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X, described the movie as “soul-rotting slush”. The eccentric prelate asked: “Can you imagine this Julie Andrews staying with the Captain if the romance went out of their marriage? Would she not divorce him and grab his children from him to be her toys? Such romance is not actually pornographic but it is virtually so, in other words, all the elements of pornography are there, just waiting to break out.”

That makes no sense at all. It takes a special imagination to find virtual pornography in the romance of The Sound of Music. Especially when we know that the real-life Maria and Captain were faithfully married until his death!

So at the same time that we are celebrating the anniversary of the film, there's an undercurrent of mockery--the theme of how saccharine the story is and how Christopher Plummer and Robert Wise saved it from being completely sentimental is constant in the interviews and stories. With the new packaging of the movie in an ultimate (for now) five disc collectors edition, including a sing-along, the studio is making lots of money and Hollywood is hating The Sound of Music all the way to the bank. While some critics hate it, the audiences love it, and they always have. At least Julie Andrews has said that she would never knock the film since it was part of her successful career--displaying some integrity and honesty!

1 comment:

  1. You mean the basis of much of the story is the Captain's true patriotism and defiance of Nazism.

    Pretty obviously the family were Austrofascists, like Schuschnigg.

    More on the distinction in:

    Austria fuit olim divisa in factiones tres ...