The Sound of Music (The Cornfield #14)

Let's start at the very beginning....

It was on the other night; probably it was Christmas night, or the night after Christmas. The Sound of Music has turned up on network television in a regular way, sometimes decorating a holiday weekend, as The Ten Commandments and It’s a Wonderful Life do,  filling a slot that needed to be filled. (It still bugs me in some vague way that The Wizard of Oz has been off network for years, I guess because Ted Turner bought it years ago; thus, like Conan O’Brien, it has been exiled from network broadcast to the less-urgent-in-every-way TBS.) So it was a post-holiday night, and there were newspapers to catch up on, and sitting around to do, and so why not leave The Sound of Music on? 

How it was on is not entirely clear to me. The old days of pan-and-scan broadcast of a widescreen film are less prevalent now than they used to be, because most people have widescreen TVs. I don’t have a flatscreen, wide thing, because my 10-year-old, fairly good-sized television set is doing fine, and if it comes down to a choice between a flatscreen TV when I don’t need one and going to Europe in the spring, I’ll take the trip. If you have a flatscreen, you saw TSOM spread out across it; I, on the other hand, saw it plunked in the middle of the TV screen – slightly letterboxed, but not enough so that you could actually see everything that director Robert Wise and cinematographer Ted McCord put in the frame. Say what you will about the lousy old days of pan-and-scan, but if the person on the left side of the screen delivered a one-liner and the person of the right side of the screen rolled his eyes, at least you got to see both people, albeit via an awkward scan or cut that was never designed by the filmmakers.

Now, watching The Sound of Music in this 2010 way, whole areas of the Von Trapp world vanished completely. I’m not entirely sure we ever saw a couple of the kids, quite frankly. Those long horizontal compositions just tailed off into unseen Salzburgian space, from which voices would occasionally peep. A rather strange experience.

The movie? I am an unabashed Rodgers & Hammerstein booster, so I always enjoy hearing these songs, even if The Sound of Music is no South Pacific, tune-wise. “Do-Re-Mi” is kind of Mickey Moused, but it’s still “Do-Re-Mi,” so I’m into it. When the songs aren’t going, Wise brings his hacklike steadfastness to the dialogue scenes, which are occasionally carried by the suave professionalism of Richard Haydn and Eleanor Parker, but which more often plod along. Chris Plummer looks as though he’s having a naughty time, as though he occasionally wanted the audience to understand that he thought all this was terrible tripe. Julie Andrews carries it off, every scene, without flagging, like the good spirited trouper she is, and she sings gorgeously. And when the camera surveys the hills, the results are authentically thrilling.

I like Andrews’ take on the title song; the gladness of her voice is the only way to do it. Somewhere in a distant memory bank I know that Hammerstein wrote one line in the song that extols a brook “as it trips and falls over stones in its way,” and that he (or Rodgers) noted that Andrews always sang it “over stones on its way.” Which is somehow a very charming, subtly different description of a brook tripping and falling – more fluid and hopeful. But why do I remember that? Why does it stick with me and pop into my head when I hear the song? Why was I compelled to take the “Sound of Music Tour” when I was in Salzburg many years ago? (I think I took the wrong tour; make sure you get on the one that goes on a big bus, not the one that piles people into a small van.) I don’t even think the movie is really very good. But the movies colonize you, or incept you, or whatever the term may be – and there you are, walking around in your normal life, pleasantly wondering why Julie Andrews decided to change a lyric. And feeling slightly better because of it.