Sometimes things happen for a reason. But sometimes it seems they don't. What I'd really like to know is, is there a reason I was subjected to The Sound of Music twice this week? Was it the ghost of kindly old Father Phelan of St. Patrick's Parish in Lake County, Oregon getting some kind of metaphysical revenge on me for my being lukewarm (to say the least) on The Passion of the Christ? Perhaps I'd become the focus of an insidious torture campaign at the hands of the Daughters of Julie Andrews (or, as they were known in the heady days of kidnapping newspaper heiresses and winning them over to radical terrorist causes, the DJA) who conspired with the cackling Fates to make my week a living, candy-coated hell.
Oh, probably not. It's more likely just one of those ugly bits of happenstance that mean nothing, but seem like everything in the midst of enduring them. What makes the whole thing even stranger, in terms of coincidence, is that I'm also currently knee-deep in another movie that was released in the wake of The Sound of Music's middlebrow cultural hijacking, 1967's Bedazzled, written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, a comic reworking of Faust in which Cook's Satan uses the magic words "Julie Andrews" to transport Moore's rumpled everyman soul-seller to and fro in the fulfilling of his various wishes. Believe me, the idea of using the name of a post-Poppins/post-von Trapp Julie Andrews as some sort of satanic invocation is a very appealing one to me right now. I've never been a fan of her squeaky-clean image or her clipped and overly precise enunciation of all those teeth-rotting lyrics. And although I've always found Mary Poppins entertaining, it's also a bit much-- my inevitable siding up with the movie's stern taskmaster, played by David Tomlinson, during each viewing is a pretty good indication that the movie doesn't work on me in the precisely the way its creators intended.
But as a kid I loved Mary Poppins and the world it lovingly (if a bit creakily, as it turns out) evoked. Not so The Sound of Music. My mom dragged my sister and I to see it in the friendly confines of the Alger Theater back in 1969-- probably on one of the movie's many, many re-releases-- and even as a relatively impressionable nine-year-old I found it virtually unwatchable, as dead in the water as any movie (and I hadn't seen that many yet, really) I'd ever seen. The Sound of Music is chock-full of moments that make me question the sanity of everyone involved: the queasy lunacy of the nuns' bizarre obsessing over their pesky postulant (the answer to their query, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" always seemed obvious to me, but there just aren't many good Catholics like Torquemada around anymore); the lockstep animatronics of the von Trapp "children" (Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich is, I believe, the first MPAA-documented use of the UNIVAC Artificial Intelligence Unit in a worldwide Oscar-winning hit); the obvious homage to Hammer Films in the Christopher Lee-like entrance of Captain Georg von Trapp (surely the most paternalistically fascistic anti-Nazi in the history of lousy familial melodrama); that inexplicably perverse moment at the conclusion of the devastatingly bad Charmian Carr’s big “16 Going On 17” number when, in a burst of romantic joy at having had such a lovely encounter with her soon-to-be-goosestepping boyfriend Rolfe, she launches herself out of the gazebo, through the pouring rain toward the camera, and just before Robert Wise-ly cuts away, gives us a giddy, whooping “Wheeeeeeeeee!” as she gathers her arms around herself and swoons with delirious abandon (maybe that’s just delirium brought on by creeping hypothermia at being out too long in the cold Austrian rain); and, of course, the psychotically insistent effervescence of Maria herself (early on, when she describes to the Mother Superior how the birds calling to her was so sweet that she felt she could almost fly away with them, I can never hold back my fantasies of her being successful in her fine feathered flight of fancy, thus lopping off an excruciating two hours and 35 minutes of running time). Every time I see this movie I always end up with one question: What is it that others see in this movie that seems to so completely elude me?
And I think that's a fair question, if it's posed as more than a rhetorical one. So for anyone reading who finds The Sound of Music as rapturous and delightful as I find it inexplicable, uninspiring and fully absent of style, and who would like to take the opportunity to explain why, I'd love for you to do so.
But I'd also like to pose another question, and that is:
What movie, beloved by seemingly everyone else, do you find to be unconscionably, unsupportably, unmistakably bad?
Your choice really should be a movie that has enjoyed some improbable measure of popularity at the box office, critical acclaim, a plethora of awards, or some combination of these, which just drives you around the bend with frustration and irritation. Irrational responses are, I suppose, inevitable, but I'd like to hear why something grates on you so badly, when all else is but praise. I guess I've already answered that question for myself. Now I eagerly await your stories. Come share the pain.