Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sound of LPs

The first film that I can ever remember seeing in a movie theater was The Sound of Music. It was re-released in about 1971, give or take, and my mother took me to see it. I'm sure that I was taken to the movies before this (I was born in 1967), but I have no memory of it.
This time I was completely captivated. I insisted that we stay and watch it again (you can imagine my mother's reaction considering how lengthy the film is!) She compromised and we stayed through Sixteen Going on Seventeen. At that tender age, that was my favorite part and Liesl was my favorite character. (Hello! Mom should have seen the writing on the wall when I liked the pink chiffon dress and the swirling around inside the gazebo versus anything any other boy might like!)

I couldn't stand Baroness Schraeder and scowled at her from my seat. Later, I would completely submit to the charms of Eleanor Parker as the elegant, scheming, but ultimately pragmatic lady and tire just a bit of Charmian Carr's naive (and slightly too old!) sixteen year-old (not that I didn't still adore her and everything about the movie.) But that would come much later. Similarly, I would later appreciate the sex appeal of Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, something that was unthinkable to me as a babe, even though I knew even then that I was "different."

This film, along with another I will write about later, instilled in me a lifelong obsession with flowy fabrics - chiffon and the like - between Liesl's dress and Maria's blue party frock, which she swished around in during The Laendler.

It's hard for young people to fully grasp that in the days before DVD (not to mention VHS!), we had to wait for films to either be re-released to theaters or come on TV where they would be chopped up for commercials and often edited down to fit time slots. And you'd better make sure you weren't in the bathroom during your favorite part because "rewind" wasn't an option. Also, the formatting was fouled up and so you couldn't even see the entire composition of the film. However, most of us didn't know any better. We were just grateful to get to see the films again.

In the meantime, we'd wear out our soundtrack albums, singing all the songs and, in my case, performing them for company on command. I'd stand behind the doorway leading from our living room to the dining room and do So Long Farewell for whichever hapless guest was visiting. My mother's cousin Wanda drove a Volkswagon bug convertible and used to scream in agony as I went through Do-Re-Mi over and over in the backseat, including all the variations within the lengthy number only to start from the top once I was finished.


The album had a picture of Liesl sitting at the Captain's feet during Edelweiss (you must realize that even seeing PICTURES of favored people and projects was nothing like it is now) and I remember feeling crushed when the network began cutting the section where she sang along and echoed the lyrics he was singing. The way the big three networks cut these films up, a little bit more every year or so, eventually led me to never watch another movie on TV unless it was on a cable channel such as TCM or the like.

As an adult, I got the rare privilege of getting to play Captain Von Trapp in the stage version and later played Uncle Max. Both times were wonderful experiences though the book of the stage musical has no chance of competing with the brilliant screenplay Ernest Lehman devised. That man worked wonders with the thin story, turning it into the memorable and captivating project that it was and is. Though The Baroness's songs were cut (something I actually agree with because it makes her character even more alienated and uncomfortable), she was given a lot more dialogue, much of it hilariously snotty, and made the character unforgettable. One key scene, in which she convinces Maria to go away, was completely fabricated for the film. In the stage musical, Brigitta does this duty inadvertently.

Always accused of being sentimental and saccharin, I find the film to be surprisingly witty, sarcastic and even restrained at times. And there's just no topping that magnificent scenery. It's a movie that is as much a part of my life as anything ever could be, perhaps because it is the first movie I was ever conscious of.

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