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Sound of Music

There are Oscar winners for best picture that have been longer than 1965ís Sound of Music, but none seem longer. This thing is so long a lot of the songs in the soundtrack have to be performed two or three times to fill the entire three hour movie.

This is a fictionalized version of the von Trapp family story, depicting Maria, a nun hired as a governess who teaches the seven von Trapp children to sing, and eventually falls in love with her employer, Georg. At first he is a total dick of course, humorless and strict, and abandoning his kids the day after the new governess arrives for a month long tryst with some baroness. When he returns he falls in love with Maria, seeing the positive effect she has had on the kids. Of course then Austria gets invaded by Germany and the whole clan has to flee.

This whole movie is a story of transformation. Maria transforms from a troubled nun who doesnít quite know where she fits in, to a loving governess, to a wife. Georg transforms from a complete asshole who uses a whistle to call his kids into an actual human. The kids go from torturing Maria, just as they have done to all the other governesses, to respecting her and loving her. And the boyfriend of the oldest girl becomes a Nazi. Of course none of these transformations is wholly explored and they all just sort of happen. We can kind of see the process of Maria and Georg falling in love, but his transformation into a nice person is almost instantaneous. The kids are just as bad. One minute they are leaving pine cones on Mariaís chair for her to sit on, then she makes some passive aggressive speech thanking them for their kindness (with Georg far too dense to notice the sarcasm) and they all begin crying, then later that night a thunderstorm has them all cowering in her bedroom looking to her to keep them safe. Yes, because passive aggressive sarcasm will make seven asshole children become well behaved and kind to all around them. I saw first hand this doesnít work when a lengthy succession of teachers I had back in the day tried it and were quickly broken.

Now yes, as it is a musical, we are supposed to care more about the songs than the plot line, but the songs here are nothing special. You have the ones everybody has heard of, like the title song ("The hills are alive, with the Sound of Music"), performed as Maria is spinning around on top of a hill. This one is OK, but besides the chorus isnít a very good song. Thereís the "Do, a deer, a female deer" song which gets tiresome after the first couple times we hear it (and was far more entertaining when parodied on The Simpsons). We also have "So long, farewell" which is not as entertaining as the parody SNL did in its season finale back in 1994. None of the other songs are particularly memorable, and even the ones that are donít really inspire the viewer to walk out of the theater humming them. They simply arenít that good.

This movie does do one thing right, and that is give Marni Nixon some face time. She sang many of the songs Audrey Hepburnís character sings in My Fair Lady, and didnít get credit for her work very often, but she does show up here as one of the nuns. Of course that wasnít going to be an issue here, since Julie Andrews could actually sing, but it was nice to give the Martha Wash of 60ís musicals a little shout out.

Now, I havenít liked any of the musicals the Academy has chosen so far, and this is no exception. In fact, there is one movie from 1965 that is far, far better, and it did garner a nomination at least, but was passed over on Oscar night. That movie is the Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Stieger, Alec Guinness Russian epic Dr. Zhivago. Itís not that Sound of Music isnít beautifully shot, it is, but Dr. Zhivago is far better. It isnít that Sound of Music doesnít feature good acting, not only from the leads Andrews and Christopher Plummer, as well as Charmian Carr in her only movie role as the eldest von Trapp daughter, but Dr. Zhivago is even better. In fact, it is clearly the far better movie in all aspects, and this is one of the more criminal choices the Academy has ever made.

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