Arts and Entertainment Editor
On Saturday, Nov. 3, University of Michigan’s professor of film, television, and media, Caryl Flinn, hosted a Q&A at Pollock Theater followed by a screening of “The Sound of Music.” The beloved musical, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, recently celebrated its 53rd anniversary.
“The Sound of Music“ follows Maria (Andrews), a vivacious young woman, as she tries to become a nun in Salzburg, Austria. After the nuns deem her liveliness too strong to be confined to a nunnery, they send her to work as a governess for the children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Plummer), a retired Naval officer and widower. Despite a rough start, Maria’s discordant work ethic and wonderful way with music ultimately win over the affections of both the children and their father.
The Academy Award-winning movie held its own as one of the highest-grossing film of all time for the first five years following its release and continues to stand as one of the highest-grossing musicals of all time. The motion picture broke commercial records in 29 countries, as well.
Flinn, the author of the 2015 BFI Film Classics volume on “The Sound of Music” maintained, “Its [success] was absolutely immediate.” She argues in her book that repeat viewings had not existed before in the way that they did once “The Sound of Music“ hit theaters.
What’s more, Flinn contends that “The Sound of Music“ was such a roaring success because it appealed to women, children, religious groups, and the LGBTQ+ community alike. Going as far as calling it a cult classic, Flinn said that at sing-along versions of the film, like the first LGBTQ sing-along screening in London, “There are more cross-dressed nuns that you can imagine.”
Yet, on the other hand, a few vehemently detest the film, contrary to mainstream fondness. According to Flinn, Plummer himself even called the musical “The Sound of Mucus” or refers to it as “that film,” going as far as calling his lead role “castrating.” Flint detailed that one especially displeased critic, Pauline Kael, even lost her job after giving the film a scathing review that opposed popular opinion.
However, Flinn acknowledged that those who took issue with the film may have been onto something, saying, “The film was a last gasp of white privilege, unsoiled nature, and [naïveté.] … Director Robert Wise knew that if the film had come out two years later, it would’ve been a flop.” With the changing times of the 1960s, it is a little surprising that such a traditional film, with blatant themes of white privilege and female stereotyping, thrived so tremendously.
Nevertheless, its popularity and ubiquitous renown was undeniable. According to Flinn, the soundtrack was so well known that President Ronald Reagan even thought the song “Edelweiss” was Austria’s real national anthem and so played it when an ambassador visited.
The film’s unquestionable vogue in the last half-century begs the question of whether it will continue to be as well favored in the future. Viewers today should re-examine “The Sound of Music,” taking into account all of the strides we have made in progressing towards gender and racial equality in the last 50 years, to determine if it is still an indisputable and innocent favorite.