Season 6 of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" Begins!
The original premise of the Best Shot series was a short essay on ONE screen capture from a film, "best" being in the eye of the beholder, and thus the fascination since movies are communal but we see them individually. Everyone cheats with multiple shots and full movie reviews - I'm the worst ! -- so In an altogether herculean effort to pare it back to the premise (*he begins to sweat*) I will only allow myself two screenshots today and one topic (gulp). For my sanity I've restricted myself to the film's first half, pre-intermission. We can always write about The Sound of Music again.
Let's talk about the act of opening your heart up wide to fall in love, with all the risks that that entails... such as loving a movie that sophisticated cinephiles are not supposed to love, and loving a stranger who you don't yet understand. [More...]
Though we spend the whole movie looking at Maria this is one of the film's only shots that is not from Maria's point of view... or world view, rather. We're seeing Maria, quite emphatically, from The Baroness's point of view (Eleanor Parker, killing it as she is prone to do). The shot is so observationally intimate that Julie Andrews doesn't even seem aware of the camera. This is not something one can or should usually say about the great musical entertainers since they're always endearingly putting on a show. The whole movie is beautifully lit by the Oscar nominated Ted D. McCord (he lost to the work in Doctor Zhivago, 1965's other box office behemoth) but it's particularly smart that the shadows are so soft in the first half of the film before the Nazi's take control and inky darkness descends.
The romanticized softness is apt since the first act is all about falling in love: Maria with the children and life outside the Abbey; the children with their new governness and their father; The Captain with Maria to his surprise, and with his own children and music again; Liesl with her telegram boy. But three grand reciprocal romances are already firmly established with just the opening scene, quite possibly the most iconic opening that any film's been blessed with.
i go to the hills when my heart is lonely
i know I will hear what I've heard before
my heart will be blessed with the sound of music
and i'll sing once more
When stage musicals move to the screen they're often asked to "open up" and you get outdoor scenes for no justified reason. With The Sound of Music, it's always been difficult to imagine it ever being a stage musical at all (even if you've seen it on stage!) since its power is so elemental in nature and the majesty of Austria is such an important character. In fact, it's a full two minutes and twenty seconds before we see a human at all, the tiny figure of Maria appears spinning in the grass, arms outstretched to welcome the beauty in. Until then it's just the sounds and sights of nature and majestic aerial photography of mountains and clouds (shout out to Clouds of Sils Maria opening soon!) to set the mood.
The shot I've chosen is one of her mid-song dashes when the spirit overcomes her again. By the end of the sequence when Maria's racing to the abbey, title cards and music blaring, you're already a goner if your heart is open, if you're willing to get dizzy and spin with this singing would-be nun. First there's the love of country, so crucial to the arc of the musical at the dawn of World War II. (In this case it's Austria but any paradise lost can be mentally transposed). Then the love of music, from the swelling orchestra to that perfect bell-like voice, one of the three greatest instruments in cinema history. And last but never least, love of moviegoers to movie star. Julie Andrews was already an enormous star thanks to Mary Poppins the year before, and audiences couldn't resist her sugar rush energy and that pure guileless face, perfect for the heightened genre on which she made her name. The love is reciprocal; Julie's Maria Von Trapp will never stop blessing audience's hearts with the sound of music. The movie is fifty years old this week but what's another birthday when you're already immortal?
Best Shots Elsewhere - Check out this gallery of sixteen other great shots with links to multiple fine articles. I always learn so much reading all of these.
NEXT TUESDAY: Paris is Burning (available on Netflix Instant Watch) our first documentary in the series and one of the greatest ever made.