The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE...AND HAVE EYES: Forty years ago this month, the film version of The Sound of Music debuted. It's one of the most maligned musicals ever to become a beloved classic: Its own co-star nicknamed it "The Sound of Mucus," and to this day I have an easier time remembering the lyrics to Mad magazine's parody than the original songs. It's the Schindler's List of sap, and -- confession time -- I like it.

I like it because the damn thing keeps changing on me. When I was a boy and my mom watched it on TV every year, it was a movie about a woman who makes life cheerier for a bunch of kids; and then they all escape the Nazis. I was vaguely aware that she also married Christopher Plummer, but it seemed like a minor plot point -- until I saw it again in my early twenties. Suddenly, the maternal Julie Andrews who taught children to sing had become a pretty young woman who falls in love with a widower. The kids popped in to do a number every now and then, but they were just an adornment; the movie was really a love story. Which ends when they all escape the Nazis.

A decade later, after many of my friends had started to have children, I watched it again. Now it seemed to be a movie about fatherhood: how distant dad Christopher Plummer reconnects with his kids. The love story was there, but it was a means to an end; the reason he loved Julie Andrews was because she made his household a family again. After which, they all escaped the Nazis.

There are, I'm sure, teenage girls who think this is a story about Plummer's eldest daughter getting spurned by her first love. There are probably people who think it's a basically plotless soundtrack. There may even be people who think it's about escaping the Nazis.

How does it manage to be so many movies at once? Mostly, by letting us fill in what we don't see. The last time I watched it, I paid careful attention to the pacing, noting all the times it lets us infer what's going on and project as much importance as we'd like onto what's happening. And so, for example, when Andrews and Plummer finally marry we see a lavish wedding scene; every corner of the screen is filled with ornate decor. We see the bride, and we see the groom. But there isn't a word of dialogue, and the whole sequence is as sparse in time as it is rich in spatial detail. If you latch onto it, it could stretch into hours in your memory. If you don't, then it's gone in a blink.

I like The Sound of Music because every time I see it, I remember something it's easy for a critic to forget: that the movie I'm criticizing exists in my head, not on a screen.


posted by Jesse 3:59 PM
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