Friday, December 21, 2007

The Sound Of Music (a.k.a., T'zlili Hamuzika) (1995 Israeli Cast) (Rodgers & Hammerstein)

Back when I reposted the Alternative Stage Music, Vols. 3-5, 'Anonymous' wondered if I could post the entire album to 'The Sound Of Music' stage version in Hebrew, so I thought since they always re-run the movie 'The Sound Of Music' at Christmas time that now would be a good time to post this. This post is also probably appropriate to celebrate Hannukah now that I think about it.

It stars Chani Nachmias (as Maria) & Sasi Keshet (as Von Trapp) and as always, it's nice to hear an Israeli cast playing Austrian characters in an American musical.

It occurs to me that since I'm very unlikely to ever post the film soundtrack (as opposed to this stage version) on the blog that now is my golden opportunity to actually talk about the film. When do I ever get the chance to do that if not now? (Sure, it might break out in the middle of a Jerry Goldsmith post, but it hasn't happened yet, so now seems as good a time as any.)

It's interesting to me how the film became an annual Christmas tradition. I'm not sure when that happened (or why exactly), but it's nice that at least it gets shown nationally once a year. It's like 'The Ten Commandments' (1956) at Easter. It's still sort of odd though because there was a time when they'd show these movies all year round. Just as with 'It's A Wonderful Life', I don't think these movies were particularly associated with holiday viewing. Obviously, 'It's A Wonderful Life' has a more natural connection, but perhaps they were so familiar to people that they didn't feel the need to run them but once a year.

But in the case of 'The Sound Of Music', when you think about it, there is no particular Christmas connection. The same thing goes for the song, 'My Favorite Things', being put on so many Christmas compilations. It's only because 'My Favorite Things' makes you think of gifts, I suppose. I almost wonder if that's why they show the movie at Christmas time. That and the fact that it's a nice family film. (Any movie with Nazis has to be a good family film.)

Every time I watch it with all the other holiday movies, I keep expecting that a Christmas tree should pop up or Santa will come skiing down the mountain, but it never happens. (Is there a Christmas tree in the movie? I forget.)

Well, I remember when I was watching the movie, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, and it suddenly occurred to me how amazing the screenplay was. (I know, sometimes I'm pretty slow on the uptake.) It occurred to me that even though the telecast was 4 hours long, the movie was never boring. Usually, you expect the story to flag or lull somewhere, but I realized that as each conflict is resolved a new one is presented. It's done so seamlessly that it drives the narrative without really sagging at any point. (Which is really what a good screenplay is supposed to do, but you see a lot of really long movies where it gets occasionally boring........like this post. But great movies like 'Lawrence Of Arabia' or 'Dances With Wolves' never feel long.)

You start with the question of whether Maria is going to make a good nun and while that question is still up in the air, she's sent to the Von Trapps. Then, you wonder if she's going to make a good governess and whether she's going to get along with the children (and whether Christopher Plummer is going to get along with his own children). Then after she bonds with them over 'My Favorite Things' and a little 'Do Re Mi', that conflict's resolved, but then you quickly move to the question of their potential new stepmother and Maria's feelings for the Captain. You have Eleanor Parker as romantic rival and wicked stepmother (that role, by the way, was a little more beefed up, musically, in the stage version, with her and Richard Haydn's characters getting some additional songs).

Then as soon as Maria and the Captain realize their love for each other, the questions of their romantic triangle, their feelings for each other, and Maria's future as a nun are all wrapped up neatly in one fell stroke (with his relationship with his children being healed somewhere along the way, for good measure). You'd expect some letdown in the story at this point, but as soon as you have the wedding and the honeymoon, the Nazi occupation begins. (Isn't that always the way? Just as soon as you get the wedding gifts unwrapped, Nazis show up.)

And then that drives the whole rest of the story until the end. I've seen 90 minute movies that seemed less streamlined. Ernest Lehman certainly did a good job with the screenplay. And Robert Wise did a magnificent job with the direction. Well, directing a musical, he beat out William Wyler, David Lean, & John Schlesinger that year, so that's pretty good.

And one of the things that makes it works so well, I think, is Christopher Plummer's performance. He gave the story a strong dramatic spine that helped keep it from being too saccharine and made the audience care about his character's strong national pride and sense of real danger from the Nazi occupation. (Even though I think for years after he used to call the movie, 'The Sound Of Mucous'.) I think the possibility of the story being too sugary sweet also worried Julie Andrews and Robert Wise, but I think they succeeded in tempering it so that it was really effective.

I remember hearing Oscar Hammerstein responding to the events of the play when asked about it being a bit too much and I think he basically responded that it couldn't be helped because that's what really happened. Those were the basic events in their lives. Though from what I understand the personalities of The Captain and Maria (or is that The Captain & Tenille?) were somewhat reversed in real life. She was a bit more hard-nosed and driven and he was a bit more amiable and easy-going. (In fact, when they eventually moved to America, after his death she was so determined to keep the family together as a singing group, I don't think she allowed the children to even date or get married, so the eldest daughter eventually ran away and other children later mutinied as well. So much for 'Sixteen Going On Seventeen' and 'My Favorite Things', I guess, and more like 'So Long, Farewell'.)

And of course, it wouldn't have worked at all without the performances of Julie Andrews and the children.

It would also get my vote as one of the top 3 or 4 best screen adaptations of a stage musical. And possibly the best example of 'opening up' a stage musical ever done. Of the integrated book musicals in the post-Oklahoma era (earlier screen adaptations tended to change stage musicals pretty significantly sometimes leaving say, only one song from the original, so it's harder to count those), I think the dilemma was always between preserving the original play and 'opening' it up so that it functioned as an actual movie and not simply a filmed play. So at one end of that spectrum you have movies like 'My Fair Lady' in which George Cukor opted for preservation and say, 'The Music Man' (which is one of the other ones I think of as in that top 3 or 4 screen adaptations category) in which the director, Morton Da Costa even had scenes end with the stage going dark and a spotlight hitting the characters.

And then at the other end you have 'The Sound Of Music' with its brilliant use of location scenery. Unlike movie musicals like 'South Pacific', 'Paint Your Wagon', or 'Hello, Dolly!', for instance, that tried to open up the stories with extensive use of their locations, I think 'The Sound Of Music' was much more successful at integrating it into the film without distracting the audience or swamping over the story with background spectacle. (Too harsh on those other films? Well, possibly. But then again I don't see them re-running 'Hello, Dolly!' at Christmas time either. Though it would be interesting if they did. Dolly Levi's late husband's sentiment of spreading money around like manure to make young things grow seems to be very Christmas-y.)

(And not that you asked, but my other nominees for best adaptations would be 'West Side Story', possibly 'Grease' (for other reasons), and a few others I can't think of right now.)

And one of the other amazing things that 'The Sound Of Music' did that was so rare was that it almost eclipsed the original stage production in the minds of a worldwide audience. That doesn't happen very often. Usually, people are disappointed by the screen adaptation in some way, no matter how good the film is. But like 'Grease' that came after it, 'The Sound Of Music' almost made people forget that there was an original (though in the case of 'Grease' it was revived so often that it was never quite out of people's minds). And like 'Grease', when they perform the stage musicals subsequent to the films, they often end up using songs that were written specifically for the film otherwise people get disappointed and feel they're missing something!

And it also seemed to me that after the enormous success of the film, it encouraged studios to make these larger-than-life, studio-bankrupting movies to try and recapture that success. I think movie musicals would've naturally declined around that time (both 'book' musicals and pop musicals like the Elvis and Beach Party movies) if 'The Sound Of Music' and 'Oliver' hadn't hit it big around that time. And so for every huge success like that, you get a 'Man Of La Mancha', 'Mame', or 'Song Of Norway'. Then it was all set to die out again, when 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease' came along. But then you get 'Xanadu' and 'Can't Stop The Music' and kill it all over again.

It's funny, but every few years I hear someone say that the movie musical is going to be revived after the success of some film. I seemed to remember hearing that after 'Fame' and then 'Footloose' and then after 'Dirty Dancing'. Then 'Chicago' and 'Hairspray'. But there are three things about that that I think people tend to overlook.

First, one film doesn't necessarily turn around a whole genre (they said the same thing about Westerns after 'Unforgiven' for instance and they periodically say it about Kevin Costner & Mickey Rourke films too, now that I think about it).

Secondly, when musicals were considered a popular genre they were actually closer to popular music (and you actually had people like the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter writing original film musicals. Later, you had stage adaptations where the songs would appear in the Top 40. You're not likely to get that to happen with say, 'The Color Purple' or 'The Producers'. (Though I am waiting for them to put out the album, 'R. Kelly Sings Hits from 'Annie'')).

Thirdly, it's a dirty little secret, but musicals have never actually gone away. People don't like to admit it, but they actually like musicals. I hear a lot of people say that one of the reasons they don't like musicals is because people spontaneously break out into song and dance in the middle of the film and it seems unreal, but then you ask them if they like seeing Tom Hanks dancing on a giant piano, Julia Roberts singing karaoke in a restaurant, Jim Carrey singing 'Cuban Pete', Mike Myers dancing to 'Soul Bossa Nova', or Will Ferrell singing 'Afternoon Delight', and they want to see more. It's one of the reasons you'd see so many films set in karaoke bars in the late 90's. They wanted to sneak musical numbers in somehow without people knowing it. (And then when I hear people talk about the unreality of musicals, I always imagine them explaining to me the reality of a cyborg from the future or an archaeologist who keeps fighting Nazis with a whip. Hey, there are those pesky Nazis again!)

It reminds me of how a whole younger generation of women say they aren't feminists. Then if you ask them if they're for female equality, equal opportunity and a whole list of feminist principles, they say, 'Sure, I'm for all those things.' They just don't like to think they're feminists when they actually are.

And people love film musicals so much that they keep making them. It's just that musical purists don't like to think of pop, rock or rap musicals as being musicals. What is 'Breakin'', 'La Bamba', 'Great Balls Of Fire', 'The Bodyguard', 'Ray', or 'Hustle And Flow', for instance, if not some form of musical? I think that's actually the only way musicals would revive as a genre. Only if they actually did more films that used contemporary music with popular artists, but integrated into the story. Take a movie like '8 Mile' with Eminem. That's a perfect example of what they should do (but perhaps with more integration into plot and character) if they actually wanted to revive it as a genre. I'm surprised they don't do it more often. Essentially do the equivalent of the teen musicals of the 1950's or even Elvis pictures (though that might not work as well today). But I think the reason they don't is because a singer or group's popularity is a lot more short-lived today. By the time you finish a picture and release it, they're yesterday's news. And all their best material is done on a music video.

That's another dirty little secret. All the time people were watching music videos they were actually watching mini-musicals. Story told through song and dance. But I bet if you told people watching the latest video that they liked musicals they'd probably tell you you were crazy.

Of course, I'd like to see the integrated book musical become a prominent genre again. Or the original film musical, like 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers' or 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game', for instance. But I don't think that's very likely to happen any time soon unless musical tastes change severely. We do seem to be going through a nice period where studios (perhaps after the success of 'Chicago' and 'Moulin Rouge') are more willing to green light screen adaptations like 'The Producers', 'Guys And Dolls', 'Rent', and 'Sweeney Todd'. Or movies like 'Across The Universe'. But unless those make a ton of money (which most of them didn't, I think), I think it's just going to be a brief period. Which is not pessimism so much as realism, I suppose. It's just too expensive to rehearse people for months and write original music that hasn't been tested thousands of time on stage or on record without a studio machine like MGM had in the 1930's through the 50's, for instance. It would need to make 'Pirates Of The Carribean' money (and which by the way, people thought pirate movies were a bad idea too).

It is funny how at one time people went to musicals in large enough numbers to make them economically viable and turn people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, and Esther Williams into huge stars. Can you imagine people turning a swimming or skating athlete into a huge musical star today? But it just goes to show that musicals weren't just for a marginalized audience back then. It was like going to a Western, an action picture, or a drama. Today, I think it's considered in some kind of other category. I'm not quite sure what though. Maybe like going to an opera or ballet film. (Which, by the way, makes me laugh when I think of people imagining that movies like 'Evita' or 'The Phantom Of The Opera' which are essentially pop operas might be giant box office hits just because they were hits on the stage. People aren't really going to revive movie musicals with poperettas (nothing against them, but again, it isn't very likely to happen).)

But then again the success of 'The Sound Of Music' when musicals were in a decline is a testament to how, if you make a movie good enough, it can inspire more people to try. (Just hopefully not with 'The Song Of Norway'.)

Well, now that I've bored everyone with my opinions about musicals, here's hoping you're still in the mood to listen to 'The Lonely Goatherd' in Hebrew.

Enjoy!


P.S. Miscellaneous trivia about the movie rattling around in my head:

- Watch (extremely briefly) for the cameo by the real Maria Von Trapp as she walks far in the background behind Julie Andrews (if I remember right, somewhere during 'I Have Confidence')

- Since lyricist Oscar Hammerstein died before the film was made, Richard Rodgers wrote two additional songs for the film by himself that weren't in the original play ('I Have Confidence' and 'Something Good').

- Some of the children went on to do some interesting things like Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich) went on to play Spiderman on the short-lived TV series (and the last time I saw him in something, he seemed to be working in Australian TV or film productions).

Heather Menzies (Louisa) went on to do movies like Ssssss! (she was in that one right? How many 'S's' are in that anyway? For some reason, I always think of that as a very sad movie. You keep hoping things will turn out okay for her character.) and Piranha. And she later married the late Robert Urich (well, she married him before he became the late Robert Urich.)

Angela Cartwright (Brigitta) went on to do the TV series 'Lost In Space'. (And I always get Angela Cartwright confused with Veronica Cartwright. I always wonder what, if any, relationship they might have to each other.)

Charmian Carr (Liesl) went on to a religious career. I can never remember if she became a nun or something else.

- Marni Nixon (Sister Sophia) finally got a meatier on-screen role after years of dubbing the singing of people like Deborah Kerr in 'The King And I' and 'An Affair To Remember', Audrey Hepburn in 'My Fair Lady', Natalie Wood in 'West Side Story' and 'Gypsy', and Margaret O'Brien in 'The Big City'. I always kick myself for not having bought her CD when I had the chance when I saw it at Tower Records. Well, maybe I still can......oh, wait.

- And speaking of dubbing, Christopher Plummer was dubbed by Bill Lee (which I think almost caused Mr. Plummer to back out once he found out he was going to be dubbed) and Peggy Wood (Mother Abbess) was dubbed by Margery McKay (though I've heard people say Marni Nixon, but it doesn't really sound like her. And I think Peggy Wood used to sing opera anyway, so I'm not sure why they needed to dub her, but oh well.)

- And posting Maureen O'Hara music elsewhere on the blog reminds me of the actress Anna Lee (Sister Margaretta) in 'How Green Was My Valley', 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?', and 'In Like Flint'. Once you see Anna Lee in a turban in that last film, you never quite forget her. Either turbans or habits. She likes to have her head encased I guess.

- It took a lot of effort to get the opening shot of the film and not have the wind from the helicopter blow Julie Andrews down on that mountain top.

- Julie Andrews' character's last name is Rainer.

- 'Edelweiss' was the last song Oscar Hammerstein wrote before he died.

- And weren't The Bill Baird Marionettes (used in 'The Lonely Goatherd' number) also in the movie, 'Lili'? I forget exactly, but I think they were.


Track List:

Israeli Cast (1995) - 01 - The Sound of Music
Israeli Cast (1995) - 02 - Dixit Dominus
Israeli Cast (1995) - 03 - Maria (nuns)
Israeli Cast (1995) - 04 - My Favorite Things
Israeli Cast (1995) - 05 - Do Re Mi
Israeli Cast (1995) - 06 - Sixteen Going On Seventeen
Israeli Cast (1995) - 07 - The Lonely Goatherd
Israeli Cast (1995) - 08 - The Sound Of Music (Reprise)
Israeli Cast (1995) - 09 - So Long, Farewell
Israeli Cast (1995) - 10 - Climb Ev'ry Mountain
Israeli Cast (1995) - 11 - Edelweiss
Israeli Cast (1995) - 12 - Climb Ev'ry Mountain (Reprise)

password = youdont

The Sound Of Music (a.k.a., T'zlili Hamuzika) (1995 Israeli Cast) (Rapidshare)

The Sound Of Music (a.k.a., T'zlili Hamuzika) (1995 Israeli Cast) (Megaupload)


around 28 MB

@ 128 Kbps

Comments:
As to the relationship between Angela and Veronica Cartwright - it's so obvious, you'll kick yourself - they're sisters! Veronica is the eldest.
 
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