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November 19, 2010


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That Fuzzy Bastard

G'wan, read Slate's take on Watchmen (the book, that is). Then listen to the Slate Book Club discussions of Beloved and Infinite Jest. You haven't suffered enough today. On politics, Slate is okay; on technology, they're decent;on current movies, Dana Stevens is actually pretty good. But when they do retrospectives on culture, it's some of the worst criticism ever written.

Glenn Kenny

@ TFB: Oh, I listened to that "Jest" podcast. Or, as I like to call it, "Katie Roiphe Tries To Piss On David Foster Wallace's Grave, But Can't Quite Work Up A Stream." But the "Music" review is in Slant, not Slate, although the contrarianism they ostensibly have in common—not to mention their names—make them easy to mix up. I'm not really offended by Henderson's review—it's really pretty expected. I had been toying with the idea of writing a defense of the film since taking a sentimental journey with it a couple of weeks ago, but it really IS a problematic piece of work, particularly given its context. Henderson's piece just gave me a handy peg, as I really do find Rodgers and Hammerstein in certain respects unimpeachable and genuinely (often willfully) misunderstood. Calling any of their songs "awful" is really a category error of the highest order...


I'd make some comment about being "indignant" and so forth, except I enjoyed reading this, and agree, and read portions aloud to my wife. So never mind.

Castle Bravo

I can't be contrarian, since I've never seen the movie. I've never been able to bring myself to.

It always appeared to me to be the ultimate white fantasy movie -- a beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed family singing songs in a giant home amidst gorgeous surroundings, etc. Something about the idea of Aryan-looking Christians fleeing Nazis doesn't do it for me...

I don't recall my family ever watching it. I think Sound of Music, as well as It's A Wonderful Life, are really these kind of beholden treasures in white Christian families. While I was certainly aware of them, they simply didn't exist in my childhood. I might also add Gone With the Wind to that group -- though my mother loved that.


Sad Admission: ADORE Robert Wise, the best studio director of his generation but still can't sit through THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Someday.

I did enjoy Pauline Kael's funny scathing review though. Funny how it was a badge of critical honor to rip on this film back in the day...

Tom Russell

I've never really been a big fan of SOUND OF MUSIC, but the songs are great and Andrews is very appealing (as always).

Mr. Bravo: you should see IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, for the simple reason that it's one of the greatest films ever made about a man being driven to suicide by the crushing weight of his familial obligations. Its fantastical elements aside, there's nothing overbearingly white-and-Christian about it, and it also doubles as an expertly cinematic deconstruction of movie-watching on par with CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING.

warren oates

@Tom Russell: If I ever had a rep theater one of my dream double bills would be IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE paired with Bresson's L'ARGENT. A sort of everything is strangely connected, ripple effect litmus test of each viewer's life philosophy. An in-spite-of-everything "yes," versus a radical "no." Both films strike me as uniquely personal and unflinching. And on any given day, neither one seems more true than the other.

@christian: agree about Wise. I'd much rather watch one of his great noirs like ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW again. Or at least the much better musical and film WEST SIDE STORY. No Sound of Mucus Blu for me.


"If I ever had a rep theater one of my dream double bills would be IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE paired with Bresson's L'ARGENT. A sort of everything is strangely connected, ripple effect litmus test of each viewer's life philosophy."

I approve of this double bill. One ticket, please.

Castle Bravo

I'm watching The Toolbox Murders on Netflix right now. It's A Wonderful LIfe can wait.

Terry McCarty

Watched some of the extras on the Blu-Ray edition last night--and noticed the "we're smarter than this" parody of the stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC excerpted from the JULIE AND CAROL AT CARNEGIE HALL 1962 TV special.


Well, I take your point, Glenn, but I must give the Slant reviewer a little credit. Ernest Lehman's screenplay is indeed a big improvement on the Lindsay/Crouse book for the stage play; this is seldom acknowledged.

The Siren

What a wonderful way to start a morning, wrestling with this movie once again. I once named it as a Worst Best Picture Oscar winner, and I hope Flickhead sees this; he chided me then for having a bad attitude about this movie. It made me realize I don't dislike SoM as much as I have claimed to. True, its incredible sunniness can get on modern nerves something awful. And Do Re Mi is a masterpiece all right but that's hard to remember if it's been stuck in your head for three days, which can happen with even a single encounter.

I complained about the kids in my little brief, but the kids aren't the problem. They're pretty realistic, as movie kids go, mischievous and annoying enough to be interesting. The girl who plays Liesl is charming. Eleanor Parker is a freaking delight and I really wish they hadn't cut her song. I also like Max, the agent, and Christopher Plummer is *dead* sexy, a sort of Rochester/Mr. Darcy, only with seven kids. (It is seven, isn't it?) Julie Andrews is doing a Mary Poppins variation and in no way is that a bad thing. And I can only imagine how great the Alps look on DVD.

No, my real problem with this movie is, I have come to realize, the nuns. I just. don't. like. nuns. in. movies. Unless they are played by Ingrid Bergman, or turn out to be a hooker. I never went to Catholic school so I don't have the personal terror of nuns that some of my friends have; I swear it's worse than clown fear for some people. But with one huge part of their lives and therefore plot/character development cut off, nuns bore me as soon as they show up. I say all this strictly as my very, very personal thing.

Anyway, it is useless to deny the pleasure I get out of this movie. I watch it for Plummer and Parker and make a sandwich during "Climb Every Mountain." Works for me.

Kent Jones

"The Sound of Music looks a gift horse in the mouth and pukes burlap-textured wholesomeness into the cavity with the vigor of a tenor."

"...he transforms the central character of Maria from the petulant child she is in the stage show into a woman straddling the line between girl and woman, beyond tracking the years ("Sixteen Going on Seventeen") but still young enough to undermine authoritarian figures."

And my favorite: "He was cerebral and, no matter how much sweat poured from his brow during performances, performed from his mind more so than his fingers, which sometimes seemed as though they worked out of reflex."

I feel like Phil Rizzuto the very first time he exclaimed Holy Cow! But maybe it's just my mind working out of reflex.


Does this aversion extend to films like BLACK NARCISSUS for the Siren? That would be sad...

Claire K.

It's interesting that you should bring up "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Siren...when GK and I were watching this a few weeks ago, he commented during that scene that they were taking the song way too fast--which is quite true, they do really speed it up for the movie. My theory is that's because everyone is secretly bored by that song.

But as I also admitted to Glenn, it's absolutely impossible for me to get any kind of objective critical distance from this movie. I watched it so often and so avidly from such a very young age that it's like trying to be objective about my own kneecap. I will say, however, a propos the fabulous Eleanor Parker, that one thing I didn't fully appreciate as a kid was the Baroness's specTACular wardrobe. The slinky red dress with matching bolero that she wears while getting dumped is to DIE, but even the less obvious stuff is gorgeous--on her first visit home with Georg she has this snazzy little salmon-colored suit, cropped jacket over a long silk blouse with asymmetrical hem gathered a large bow at the hip. Perfect, perfect. My point being, in addition to its many other charms (and Maria's all-burlap togs aside), TSoM is a secret fashion movie.


"You sound like a Nazi Julie Andrews". Though I prefer, from the Specials, "You're the worst James Bond ever. You're David Fucking Niven".

Mr. Peel

So...is it all right that I'm now hoping that The Siren writes a piece on nuns in movies who turn out to be hookers?

Joe A.

Speaking of nun movies, I wish someone would actually make "Blood Sister: One Tough Nun" using DFW's description as a guide.


No, John Coltrane is, like SOUTH PACIFIC, enchanting.


Glenn, I agree about how unimpeachable Rogers and Hammerstein's scores are (and Rogers with Hart, too-- LOVE ME TONIGHT is fantastic)-- even the sometimes-forgotten stuff like ALLEGRO has lovely moments ("The Gentleman Is A Dope" is brilliant). That's why I'm generally depressed with their film translations-- as much as I adore the music in SOUTH PACIFIC and OKLAHOMA! (and as mightily as the cast works to put it across), they just look awful, and even THE KING AND I drags for me (even with how good Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr are).

So as sappy as it can be, and as much as repeated viewings (which now stretch into double digits) sometimes cause my response to be a campy one, I do really appreciate just how visually stylish Wise's work on THE SOUND OF MUSIC is. And (as Griff and Siren mention) just how much Lehman and Plummer contribute to making the whole thing work. And I find the Baroness increasingly sympathetic, especially in that moment when she and Maria speak of Maria's love for the Captain-- she really sells it and finds this interesting fragility in her emotional position.

Besides, everyone knows the worst musical to win Best Picture is easily OLIVER!, which I also think is the worst winner in any genre. God, that film drives me nuts.

Dan Coyle

I thought Crash was the Worst Best Picture Winner? Any film with that much Thandie Newton has to be terrible.

As for the Sound of Music, I can never hate a film with an opening shot as majestic and wonderful as that.


Wow, I didn't realize that was Eleanor Parker, not having watched this movie since I was 12, at a time when I didn't know who Parker was. I'm a little surprised, as I hate, for the most part, her performances in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM and HOME FROM THE HILL and I remember her being quite alright in TSOM - a little cartoonishly sniffy, perhaps, but appropriately so. Maybe I just don't like her when she's playing profoundly neurotic wives. Other than that, I guess it is a little weird that the alternative to Nazism posed by the movie is this kind of pastoral, nationalistic, militaristic, tow-headed, blue-eyed, edelweiss-flower power. That sounds an awful lot like Nazism! Albeit with a different state flower. I guess the big differences are a slightly more progressive vision of gender politics and that they're peace-loving Austrians. And most importantly, for Wise, differing color sensibilities - peace-loving Austrians are really into greens and blues and Nazis like martial red. It makes you wonder what Minnelli could have done with the project.

The Siren

Edo: Oh god no, I didn't think of Black Narcissus because to me that's a sex/Technicolor movie and not a nun movie at all. Of course I worship it like everyone else does. It's completely the nun movie for people like me who hate nun movies.

Tom Russell

Brian-- I'm far from an OLIVER! apologist, but the worst musical to win best picture is CHICAGO, clearly and hands-down.

Mr. Ziffel

Is there a nun movie other than Two Mules for Sister Sara where the nun turns out to be a whore? I know my film knowledge is lacking (that's why I come here!)...but really? Y'all make it sound like it's a cliche!

The Siren

Mr. Ziffel, if there's a whole genre (in non-XXX cinema, that is) of nuns who turn out to be hookers it's passed me by too. That's the only one I know either -- my point was that I could only name two nun movies that didn't make me grit my teeth. With the addendum of Black Narcissus, which I maintain is no more a nun movie than A Matter of Life and Death is an angel movie.


There's a really delightful little scene with a cardshark nun in this blog's namesake... punctuated by Sinatra asking Dean Martin, "what do you mean, you don't trust them sisters?"


Brian, Tom, I want to make clear that I am an "Oliver!" apologist. In fact, I'm such an "Oliver!" apologist that I'm sure Christopher Hitchens would be quite disgusted with me. I would go so far as to say that it is my eight favorite Best Picture. I will go even further and say that I am a "Pink Floyd: the Wall" apologist, and prefer "Evita" to "Chicago." I suspect Jim Emerson would be very distressed by that.

The Siren

Partisan needs to come sit by the Siren. Except, don't bring "The Wall."


For the record, I am a Eric P Henderson apologist - actually, more than that, I have enjoyed his correspondence and his writing for many years. His best work has a painterly style, maybe sometimes too rich in irony for certain readers (not me), and he has that rare gift of de-emphasizing the "liked it" "hated it" aspect that almost every critic under the sun sees as a requirement. AND he's a nice guy. In short, 'e's a mate.

I'm not going to get all, Glenn Kenny don't pick on my buddies, because that combines two rather radical presumptions: (a) that you know who I run with and (b) that it should make a damn bit of difference. But I figure, what with the dominant theme of the thread more or less being: TSOM isn't **that** bad, I thought I might chime in for the writer of that piece, as well.

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