Revered by audiences who made it one of the most successful films of all time, reviled by Pauline Kael who kvetched that it seemed mechanically-engineered and who detested what she called the "sickly, goody-goody songs" (whose admirers, by the way, included John Coltrane), The Sound of Music celebrates its 45th birthday with a Blu-Ray DVD guaranteed to restimulate the debate about this Hollywood movie that has passionate lovers and haters.
For a 12-year-old in 1965, as the Beatles rode the U.S. airwaves, song lyrics such as "Doe, a deer, a female dear" and "I am 16, going on 17, innocent as a rose" were, at best, juvenilia, and at worst, corny as antimacassars. The dirndl'ed daintiness of Julie Andrews and her well-behaved charges struck the tween and her friends as epically uncool. She wore her disdain for Robert Wise's movie as a badge of pride. She wanted to listen to guitars, not glockenspiels. Kael dismissed it as "The Sound of Money;" she called it "The Sound of Mucus."
A 25-year-old movie geek in the 1970s was perplexed by TSOM's provenance. After all, director Robert Wise had made the muscular genre movies Curse of the Cat People, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Odds Against Tomorrow and had also made West Side Story. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman -- whose credits included Sabrina, The Sweet Smell of Success and North by Northwest -- had adapted it for the screen. Did these genuine talents do it just for the money? Here was a problem to be solved.
By the time the longtime TSOM hater was a professional movie critic and mother of two closing in on 50, the movie was circulating in its "Sing-a-Long" iteration and she took the kids and saw it on the big screen for the first time since 1965. She came expecting camp, chortling at the moviegoers dressed as brown paper packages wrapped up in string. She left having done a 180-degree turn in her feelings. It had been ages since she had seen a major Hollywood movie built around a woman. The hater who thought that Andrews made wholesomeness and rectitude seem like a communicable disease, was deeply stirred by her performance as a novice having a crisis of faith and empowered by the story of a woman who takes command of her life, not to mention a household of oppositional kids. The screen was as big as the Alps, and so was the experience. Joining the audience singing the Rodgers & Hammerstein songs was akin to singing with the choir in a house of worship. All in all, a conversion experience.
Can watching TSOM on the home screen replicate the experience Flickgrrl had in 2003? Dunno. But size matters. So does cultural context. In 1965, TSOM seemed like a Pat Boone throwback in the era of Bob Dylan. The further removed it is from that context, the better it looks. That lumbering white elephant seems more like a whiff of edelweiss.