The Sound of Music

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
FAVOURITE FOREVER: Five decades on, The Sound of Music is set for a huge celebration.
Maria’s music to
come alive at 50
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
hen The Sound of Music
opened in 1965, the era of
American musicals had
faded away. In fact, the days
of great dancing and singing
stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger
Rogers had disappeared in the late 1950s.
Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music – an
extraordinarily fascinating film that rolled
from frame to frame through unforgettable
songs – was in fact an attempt to rekindle the
magic of musicals. And the movie succeeded.
In India, the 1960s were a period of
melodrama – where music and drama
mesmerised audiences. Dev Anand, Shammi
Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Nutan and
Waheeda Rehman among a host of others
lisped the songs sung by Mohammed Rafi,
Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
And these were set to lyrics penned by poets.
It was in times such as these that The Sound
of Music opened in India, and I remember
seeing it in Calcutta’s famed Globe Cinema,
bang opposite the historic New Market. The
movie’s enthralling plot and innumerable
numbers caught the fancy of the city.
Incredible as it may sound today, the man on
the street – bhadralok or otherwise – was then
heard singing Edelweiss and Do Re Mi.
Fifty years later, The Sound of Music –
starring Julie Andrews and Christopher
Plummer – is all set for a huge celebration.
This will begin on March 2 in Britain and
March 10 in the US with the release of a
five-disc blu-ray-DVD-digital HD collector’s
treasure. The blu-ray disc will include 13
hours of additional content with a brand new
documentary — The Sound of a City: Julie
Andrews Returns to Salzburg – telling us all
about her recent visit to that city of melody
and mirth where she was once Maria, a young
woman in a secluded abbey training to be a
nun – one that other Sisters found it as hard
to pin down as a cloud.
The film opens with a shot of Maria singing
The hills are alive with the sound of music,
and the camera captures her as a distant dot
on a marvellously undulating patch of green
with the Alps in the background, before
zooming in on her. As “the songs they have
sung for a1,000 years fill her heart, and as it
wants to sing every song it hears,” the Sisters
at the abbey are wondering what to do with
Maria when she rushes in – late as ever for
the prayer. “How do you solve a problem like
Maria,” they burst into a song – smiling and
good natured though, a reflection of times
perhaps when kindness and compassion ruled
our lives.
The Golden Jubilee commemoration
will continue on March 26, when Turner
Classic Movies (TCM) will pay a tribute to
Andrews and Plummer with an opening
night screening of The Sound of Music at the
sixth TCM Classic Film Festival, running
from March 26 to 29. Movie historian Robert
Osborne will introduce the brilliantly
restored film, and moderate a Q & A with
Andrews and Plummer (who plays Captain
Von Trapp).
This meeting of Maria and Von Trapp will
be sheer nostalgia for two of the greatest
actors we have known. In fact, no scene in
the history of cinema has had such intense
tension as the dance number in the movie
where the two are doing the Landler, an
Austrian-German folk form, which was
forbidden in parts of Europe for about 50
years in the 18th century.
The Sound of Music, which won five
Academy Awards – displaced Gone With The
Wind (which was already 26 years old in 1965)
as the highest boxoffice grosser of all time.
And why was it such a big hit? The answer
is simple. It had an absorbing story that
moved seamlessly through some of the
sweetest songs one had heard. Top this with
Andrews’ exceptional performance against
the superbly scenic Salzburg, and we have
success written all over.
In fact, Andrews was the first choice of
Wise, although his list included Grace Kelly
and Shirley Jones. Kelly and Jones might
not have been quite suitable for the Maria I
saw on the screen — bubbly, mischievous,
innocent, sincere and utterly lovable.
Otherwise, how could a widower like Von
Trapp – so strict that he used the whistle
to call each of his seven children – fall so
deeply in love with this simpleton, not chic
or polished. Remember that scene when she
rings the bell at the Captain’s villa. When
a man opens the door, she announces:
“Captain, I am your new governess”. To which
he answers: “I am your butler.”
Wise had seen Andrews in Mary Poppins,
which was not yet released then. A few
minutes into a special show of the film, Wise
told his producer, “Let’s go sign this girl
before somebody else sees this movie and
grabs her!”
The Sound of Music was inspired by the
Von Trapp family singers. Many things
were changed in the film. The Von Trapp
family had 10 children; seven were from the
Captain’s first marriage, and three more
children came after Maria and Georg Von
Trapp married. In the movie, the children’s
names, ages and genders were also changed.
The real Captain Von Trapp was a warm
and good-humoured man, not the hard
and cynical character seen in the film. This
inaccurate portrayal distressed the Von Trapp
family greatly. But they could do nothing
about it, I suppose.
Another major deviation in the movie was
that the real Maria did not fall in love with the
Captain at first sight. She once said: “I fell
in love with the children and married their
father; I got used to the father, and we were
very happy.”
Even the climax was tweaked. The Von
Trapps did not flee to Switzerland trudging
over the Alps, an escape made possible by
the nuns at the abbey who pulled out a wire
in the car used by the Nazis to chase the
family. The Von Trapps left by train to Italy
in clear daylight. Eventually they made their
way to the US, mostly with the money they
made through singing. Once in America, they
settled in Stowe, Vermont.
Despite these so-called inaccuracies, The
Sound of Music was adored by generations
of cinema buffs. And when it opens again, it
probably will be one of the favourite films – as
favourite as “bright copper kettles and warm
woollen mittens. Or, brown paper packages
tied up with strings.”
z Gautaman Bhaskaran has been
writing on Indian and world cinema for over
three decades, and may be e-mailed
at [email protected]