Saturday, 5 September 2009

Wise Films: The Sound of Music

Did I confuse with the title of this post? I meant to. I plan to finish my 100 favourite film list by the end of the year but currently I have 89 to go. So I’m doubling up…two films – one day…and it’s all because over at Octopus Cinema, Joshua is hosting a blogathon about two time Oscar winning director Robert Wise. So, I decided I would participate and kill two birds with one stone and give my reviews for two of Wise’s films which are also two of my favourite films.
As much as I’d like to say that I’m going against the grain – I can’t. I haven’t seen that much of his filmography. But so what? To celebrate Wise I will offer my perspective on West Side Story and The Sound of Music.
Between this and The Wizard of Oz, I was introduced to the musical. The Wizard of Oz – I saw first. But this I saw second, third, fourth and on and on and on. There was a period when this would show twice a month every month and we’d look at it all the time without fail. Julie Andrews plays a young nun Maria. Maria lives in the convent with the other sisters, but she’s not quite the same as they. With the blessings of the Reverend Mother she goes off to become the governess for the seven children of Captain Von Trapp. This story is very old, and if there’s someone out there who doesn’t know it – I’d really like to know who that person is.
A few weeks back when I wrote about my favourite scenes from musical Julie Andrews’ 'I Have Confidence' was ranked at [#8]. It’s my favourite number [but not song]  from the film. It’s always so difficult directing musicals where the characters sing at each other in real time and Wise achieves this wonderfully. Esepcially later in the movie. Every musical scene from the film is delightful. From 'My Favourite Things', 'Sixteen Going On Seventeen' [when I fell in love with Charmian Carr], 'Do-Re-Mi', 'The Lonely Goatherd'…it’s all wonderful. Well as far as the first act goes. The problems with the film – and yes there are those…come in the second act.
There is just an obvious jolt in the narrative when Maria leaves to return to the Convent. Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn do good jobs – but they’re not Julie Andrews and the decimation of Rolf’s character seems so unrealistic. There seems to be no proper development or regression of his character. He’s love struck young man and then he’s a would be Nazi solider. Speaking of which, the Nazi soldiers are so stereotypically evil it makes the film a little…weak.
The second act though despite being weak on story is has two beautiful numbers. It’s obvious that 'Climb Every Mountain' is the reason Peggy Wood earned her surprising Oscar nod. Well I don’t know if it was surprising back then, but it was surprising to me. And the most beautiful song in the score is in the second act – the duet 'Something Good'. It’s a bit disparate from the tone of the first act which dealt more with the children, but its beautiful nevertheless.
Thinking of my issues with this film I think about Cabaret. Another musical I love…and I do love it…but I always think what if they have stuck to the original play. I would have loved to hear some of the original score, but that’s beside the point. Cabaret worked well as a film different from the play and I wish that Wise would have done that. I can see how the last half hour may have worked on stage…but on film it’s not very interesting. There’s those archetypal Germans and then that unnecessary singing competition. But that last shot of the Von Trapp family climbing the mountain [How’s that for symbolism?] is quite beautiful. And obviously it’s supposed to be a reminder of the war which had occurred some two decades earlier.
With all its faults though, I like this movie. It’s in my top 50 after all…and it’s one of my favourite musicals. It’s something to Wise’s talent that despite the faults this film works not only for me…but for thousands of fans. 

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