The hills are alive

Gannett News Service/Fox Video

Gannett News Service/Fox Video

This academic year marks 50 years for Brock, The Brock Press, but also one of the most beloved films ever made – The Sound of Music. Released in 1965, it has become a manifesto piece of film, representing a time long past, and an innocence of cinema long dissolved.

A lot has changed in 50 years; in modern day, those Von Trappe children would be mouthing off and posting vulgar rap songs to their Facebook pages, not singing in perfect harmony on their way to bed.
The film represented a pinnacle of unmatched success that Julie Andrews would not again know until Princess Diaries 2. It’s a centerpiece, display-it-on-the-mantel masterwork, and that’s not only because the film runs for 174 minutes – even the most zen Buddhist monks would have a difficult time sitting through the musical numbers as the timer draws near the three hour mark.

Overall though, it’s not the quality of the film, the personal relationship which I have to the film, or whether or not it holds up to modern scrutiny, it’s about the film’s influence. The difference between classics, blockbuster hits, and excellent movies is the social following behind them.

In 2001, The Sound of Music was added to the United States,’ library of Congress culture collections, reserved for classic works important to American culture. “This is a horrific blow to the cause of western freedom, and damning evidence of the influence of communists in the very highest echelons of our library system,” writes Steven Lloyd Wilson via pop-culture review site, Pajiba.

While my views on those socialists and their infernal machine of free access to books are irrelevant, genuinely thought-provoking is The Sound of Music’s inclusion by BBC as one of several key British films to be played in the event of a nuclear strike on England. Among comedies, and other dramas, the film would evidently raise morale following an attack on “home” territory.

Whereas many films have a specific time of the year in which they are scheduled on television and traditionally watched (i.e. Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween; The Ten Commandments on Easter; Frosty the Snowman on Christmas), The Sound of Music is scheduled for almost any pre-marked calendar holiday, suggesting the breadth of its roots in family tradition around the English-speaking world.

It’s difficult to imagine how the films we are currently watching will be seen five decades from now. Will families snuggle up every Arbour Day to watch Black Swan? Will Spring Breakers become a shared snapshot of cultural literacy? Ultimately, the very nature of films have changed. Somewhere along the line we may have forgotten that films can also be, just films. Sometimes a song, about a 16-year-old girl turning 17 is actually about a young girl’s birthday (rather than a historical allusion to the Russian Revolution of 1917, as Pajiba also suggested.

In watching The Sound of Music today, almost any viewer could surmise the large shifts in the film industry, from family entertainment made to be entertaining, to films that are either ‘popular trash’ or ‘independent and important’. We’ve created a dichotomy and binary, that restricts films like this from being recognized in this current cultural landscape.

Ultimately, while The Sound of Music may be hokey, a little cheesy, and something that might inspire groans from your roommates if you decide to hit play, the film doesn’t show its meaning or importance in the three hours of screen time, but instead, in the social meaning crafted around it. Today, for many who have grown up watching it, the story and the experiences are impenetrable and impossible to separate. I’m not suggesting it’s a perfect film, or even a film that does any important thematic work, but it didn’t have to, and 50 years later, that’s still perfectly fine.


A second opinion:

“My daughter wasn’t allowed to watch screens for the first number of years of her life. The first movie she watched parts of (at the age of five) was The Sound of Music. She loved… and continues to love… the movie. As a five year old, her favourite part of the movie was the music – especially “So long, farewell” which she would enact with her stuffed animals, over and over again, on our stairs. Now, at eight, we have begun to explain to her the broader political context in which the story takes place.

I have heard an interview with Richard Rodgers – of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who wrote The Sound of Music – in which he discusses how important he and Hammerstein felt integrating the music into the movie was. Like we should be able to believe, as much as possible, that the singing flowed naturally from what was going on. I think The Sound of Music comes pretty close to pulling that off. The movie also satisfyingly shares a beautiful — and true — story about one of the ugliest periods of human history. The combination, it turns out, is very enduring, and I think we should all find hope in that.”

–Jennifer Good, Associate Professor, Film, Communications and Popular Culture

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