Sunday, December 21, 2003

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

This was a strange hole in my film watching experience. I go around singing Edelweiss all the durned time. I also sing it with different lyrics. I often sing it at 8:05. But I'd never seen The Sound of Music in film or on stage. Never.
The first surprise of the film was that I knew every song except the one that Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer sing in the gazebo later in the film. Many of them I didn't realize were from Sound of Music like Climb Every Mountain which I always assumed was an old hymn. They used to sing it in the church where I grew up. So it turns out I grew up in a church where they sang show tunes.
There are a few tried and true themes for musicals. The musical is a popular entertainment with a specific form that tends to unfold in a certain manner. Other theatrical forms of old would often produce many plays with simular themes, freeing them to focus on putting variation in the story, within the form as well like Greek tragedy or mystery plays or Gilbert and Sullivan's work. For example a Greek tragedy would usually go "There's a heroic figure who is nearly god like. They have one failing to their character. That one failing makes them fall from grace."
There's also a form of theater that reacts against this by making plays that comment upon themselves, but let's not get off topic here.
The stock theme that The Sound of Music falls into is the one where life is beautiful and people are happy or at least content with tiny squabbles until some great, exterior, tyrannical force comes in, destroys the lifestyle of the happy people and they're forced to pull themselves up by the boot straps. Two other examples of this theme right off the top of my head are Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret. I'm sure there are many others.
I liked The Sound of Music. It's got everything you need in it to be entertained. Puppets, nuns, singing, umm... mountains.
And Julie Andrews is right up at the top of my list of greatest musical actors (and singers) ever. Right up there with Zero Mostel.
I only had a few criticisms of the movie. I thought that the story of the Nazi telegram boy was weak and poorly executed. I thought the actor who played him was indicating his internal life way too much and didn't let the story tell its self. Also the Baroness part felt a little tacked on to me, a little flat. I really don't think it would have taken away from the film to have cut either or both of those parts and make it run under two hours.
I also think that The Sound of Music is a historical document. I have a big problem with the overwhelming number of theaters that produce musical after musical in the same manner, the same staging over and over just to get their coffers glutted. The classics MUST be explored in new ways constantly to keep them alive. We know that Hamlet has been done straight up, in period. We know what Olivier found in the role. People need to find life within the role, within the script and within the story constantly. Make it new or it's boring. This film was not boring because it was the first time it was done that way. It was new and full of life and still stands as such. Therefore an artist cannot remake the musical in the same manner without it being stale.
If I were putting on a production of The Sound of Music, I'd do something jarringly different because otherwise anybody in the audience could just go and rent the movie and wouldn't have to sit between an old lady wearing too much perfume and a child with the flu. I might have the entire set be long hanging white fabrics that changed colors in the lights in accordance to the tone of the scene. The actors could play with the drapes, maybe even build houses, boats, convents, or hills out of the fabric. They could be the drapes that the play clothes are made out of!
Or I might do a production with gender reversal. I think it'd make some neat statements on the androgyny of the nuns and the raging masculinity of the patriots and the fascists. This occured to me during the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene when the nazi boy was leading the sixteen year old daughter around the benches like a trick pony. I thought, "Wouldn't this be great if the nazi was a girl and the daughter was a boy in a dress?"
Anyway, part of the reason I like these old musical films so much is that they teach me about the past. I see the great art of history and, in seeing and appreciating them, it both informs my work and prevents my work from becoming replicas (ideally.)

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