This year marked the 50th anniversary of Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music.
Upon its release in 1965 it was met with scowling reviews of its simplistic and campy style. Distinguished and feared McCall’s Magazine film critic Pauline Kael upon its release diagnosed the film as “a sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat.”
It was reported that Kael was fired from the publication for panning the film so harshly after it finally became an immense success. It was later denied by then editor Robert Stein referring to the other commercial films Kael had laid libel to that saw her departure: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962), Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) and A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964).
And so it was to many critics’ surprise that The Sound of the Music became the number one box office film of 1965 after four weeks.
By November 1966 it became the highest-grossing film of all time, beating out Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939).
It received five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2001 and is listed as the 55th greatest American film of all time according to the American Film Institute.
Not to mention every year since 2000 the Sing-A-Long Sound of Music sells out to a crowd of 17,000.
What could have accounted for all the negativity upon its initial release?
The film follows Maria (Julie Andrews), a nun who is sent away from the Nonnbeg Abbey monastery due to her youthfulness and lack of discipline. Maria becomes the governess of retired Naval Captain Georg von Trapp’s (Christopher Plummer) seven children. While at first Maria struggles with the children, she gains their admiration and along the way falls for the Captain.
Had the rise of rock ‘n’ roll given the youth their independence, labeling the musical film genre as lame and saccharine?
The early 1960s had seen a rapid succession of musicals being produced: My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), The Music Man (Morton DaCosta, 1962), Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) and West Side Story (Robert Wise, 1961).
Nevertheless, The Sound of Music has been the most enduring family movie of all time. No matter how unconvinced the critics of its day were, nor how blatantly sugarcoated it may be The Sound of Music has entertained widely for half a century.
Quite simply, it is a beautiful piece of fimmaking, the camera work and costume design are worth its 174 minutes alone, not to mention the timeless score and soundtrack.
What critics had failed to understand about the film is that it requires a consideration of spectatorship, both personal sentiment and shared experience. Either you return to the film with memories of it playing at your grandparents or parents house when you were little or that you remember all the words to Do-Re-Mi because it was sung to you as a nursery rhyme.
Perhaps you have never seen the film in its entirety, only its pop-culture reference in many forms of satire and homage.
It is the nostalgia that is craved by spectators from The Sound of Music; there are those who remember the characters as fairy tale and those whose memories of their parents or grandparents become fairy tale by its parental presence.
It is the theatrical film of the 1900s and it is still one of our most favourite things.
The Yukon Film Society presents a screening of The Sound of Music at 3 p.m. on Dec. 27 at The Yukon Arts Centre.