After watching a few very worthy classics (including Paths of Glory and The Night of the Hunter), I shifted my focus to musicals. Using AFI’s ‘100 Years of Musicals‘ list as a starting point, I’ve vowed to watch the 25 films that body deems as essential.
Using the very strictest definition, I had seen only five of those titles before embarking on this project. I’m discounting anything I might have seen when I was a child, because I have long since forgotten those experiences. I’m not even counting The Wizard of Oz, which I’m sure I’ve seen in full at some point in my life, but certainly not since I was a kid.
Here were my initial five: Singin’ in the Rain, Chicago, Grease, Beauty and the Beast, and Moulin Rouge. Not exactly representative of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
I have now added six titles to that tally, and I’ll feature songs from five of them this week. I’ll post about numbers six through ten once I get there.
Just about ten years ago, I posted a week’s worth of show tunes, finishing up with the title track of ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ The comment thread of that post contains a classic Clay-and-Dana debate, this one about whether I “dislike” musicals.
In one comment, Dana wrote this: “I will be ready to declare your bias against the musical dead when, like you have done with country music, you DO seek out some of the classics like Sound OF Music.”
Well, Dana, it took a decade, but I am ready for you to declare my bias against the musical dead!
The Sound of Music was certainly my biggest musical blindspot. Robert Wise’s film is one of the most beloved movies of all time, ranked third in total ticket sales behind Gone With the Wind and Star Wars, winner of four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), and #4 on AFI’s list of essential musicals.
I have long had a jokey aversion to this film, telling my wife (a big fan) that I have no interest in watching a three-hour movie about a family of Nazis. She would point out that the von Trapps actually resisted the Nazis, but I wouldn’t let that get in the way of my goofy dismissiveness.
Well, I had to offer up a massive mea culpa, because The Sound of Music absolutely slaps.
Julie Andrews is transcendent as Maria von Trapp, earning her second Best Actress Oscar nomination in her first three film roles (she won for her onscreen debut, Mary Poppins, but lost this one to Julie Christie). She exudes charm, wit and beauty, whether belting out the title song on a hilltop, coaching the von Trapp brood through ‘Do-Re-Mi’ or romancing Christopher Plummer in the world’s biggest gazebo.
The songs, performances and plot are all excellent, but what really grabbed me was Wise’s direction. His use of the widescreen frame is exceptional and his camera is expertly placed, in the dark recesses of Nonnberg Abbey, the opulent rooms of the von Trapp mansion, or the rolling hills of the opening scene.
I also fell in love with Salzburg, and would love to plan a trip there in a post-coronavirus world.
From hater to fanboy: my Sound of Music conversion is one of the happier outcomes of my deep dive into classic movie musicals.
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears
My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like the chime that flies from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook as it trips and falls over stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to prey
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I’ll sing once more