[1965] The Sound of Music II

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Manhattan.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about 1965’s Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music, starting in Part I, here. This time around we dive into musical theatre and Christopher Plummer’s disdain for his role.

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Sam Sklar: Musicals live on in cartoon a lot – in the ’80s and ’90s – it shifted away from being for families to being for children. The genres broke apart and they became a little more post-modern. A lot more dialogue around what is for kids for adults and not for families. Everyone’s time is a little more compartmentalized, ideas need to be put into compartments instead of just having an experience. It is interesting to look back and see this. This shift away from musicals and then back into musicals with this new skin on it.

I’m not drawn to musical theatre either. When I was a kid I would think: ‘Why are they singing?’ until I realized, you know, “that’s the genre,” and that’s what it is. I didn’t understand. I get opera because they’re singing all of the time, and I get drama because they’re singing none of the time.

Zach Schonfeld: So, why are they singing some of the time?

S: Ha, right! Why are they randomly breaking into song? And then I got older and understood that’s the point, the form of entertainment.

Z: Yeah.

S: I’m just not drawn to it naturally. I appreciate it though. I think it takes a lot of talent to sing and dance and act. It’s just adding more to the entertainment value.

Speaking of which: Christopher Plummer did not do his own singing in this.

Z: No, he did not. Someone else did.

S: You don’t — didn’t — really notice that. So the question is: why was he cast in this role?

Z: I don’t know. I feel like there’s probably a story but i don’t know what it is.

S: might be worth looking into when I write this up and put a little aside in there.

[Aside: In 2012, Plummer sat for an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, where he discussed how the film’s producers overdubbed his part with singing from maestro Bill Lee. The team of Lee & Plummer, in effect, tag-teamed the role, with Lee sounding astoundingly like Plummer as Captain von Trapp.]

Z: It’s interesting because this role made him a real star and was the most famous role of his career. And he’s made it clear that he resents how much this role has followed him around. He doesn’t really want to be known as Captain von Trapp. When I interviewed him [for Newsweek in June 2018] he said something like, “Oh as soon as I played that role, all the roles that were offered to me were uptight sons-of-bitches like Captain von Trapp. I didn’t want to be a leading man; I couldn’t wait to be a character actor.”

He thought it was a dull character. He wanted to play more interesting characters and he complained a lot on set that the film was “too sentimental, too gooey,” and he’s credited himself as pushing Director Robert Wise to make it less sentimental, to cut down on the sentimentality, which I think is a noble pursuit and made the film better.

But i think over the years he’s referred to it as The Sound of “Mucus” and has expressed a lot of irritation as being known for that movie out of all his roles.

Continue reading “[1965] The Sound of Music II”

[1965] The Sound of Music I

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Manhattan.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about 1965’s Best Picture winner, The Sound of Music.

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Sam Sklar: Let’s first start with overall impressions and thoughts about the movie.

Zach Schonfeld: Well, I’d seen the play before but I’d never actually seen the film before. And it was very whimsical I thought; it was very family friendly. It is interesting that movies like that were pretty frequently nominated for Oscars in the ’60s. And now musicals don’t win best picture anymore.

S: The last one was Chicago [in 2002]

Z: I mean, La La Land, came close…but today, movies that are so whimsical are seen as being un-serious by critics, but that wasn’t the case back then, which I find interesting. There’s an historic element to the film, too. It captures a specific era of history, which would be the Nazi era. But it translates it for family-friendly audiences.

S: It sanitizes it a little bit, where the Nazis were just your typical adversarial element rather than a world-changing evil, in a way.

Z: Yea, it didn’t really contend with the reality of Nazis, but you can’t really expect it to do that. The music – not my thing, as I don’t really listen to show tunes, but it’s obviously endured incredibly. It’s hard to think of another musical from that era that has endured.

S: The only on I can think of “My Fair Lady”.

Z: Yea, I mean. Even that hasn’t been quite as ubiquitous. Maybe West Side Story?

S: So what do you think it is about these songs, because you can remember, “Doe, a Deer…” and obviously you’ve got “My Favorite Things” (wait is that that song, yes that’s that song). Then there’s, “How do you deal with a problem like Maria” songs that are very nostalgic.

For me, I first saw this as a kid with my dad [probably around 1996], and I liked it because it was basically made for kids. I enjoyed more now [in 2018] as a piece of nostalgic media rather than a “great movie,” but the story’s pretty solid. I don’t know what classifies it as a “timeless, great film.” Continue reading “[1965] The Sound of Music I”

[1991] JFK II

As part of the Conversation Series, I’ll be speaking with certain contributors about certain movies at certain times. 

Zach Schonfeld is a “writer” living in “Brooklyn.” He is currently a reporter for Newsweek Magazine and studied English and American Studies at Wesleyan University, for which we’re all very proud.

We spoke at length about Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece, JFK. Here’s Part II. Part I can be found here.

SS: Right, right. So the acting in this movie is superb. The cast of characters…if you recommend this movie to someone or you speak to anybody about JFK, you could read down a list of actors who have either won awards or have been lauded as landmarks within film. Let’s take a look: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, who play a very off-kilter…

ZS: Yeah, and I didn’t even realize that was Gary Oldman…

SS: He’s a total chameleon.

ZS: Right, but you never actually hear him speak; he’s just black-and-white footage and pops up.

SS: I mean, Kevin Costner had just come off a huge performance in Dances With Wolves a year before [1990’s Best Picture winner], so it gave the audience a name recognition and a draw to see the movie. It won 7 Oscars and now he’s in a movie crafted by Oliver Stone, who we [the audience] knows as a very overtly dramatic and very specific and very dynamic director. And you look down the card and you see other names, I mean Kevin Bacon has a very small role, but it’s a pivotal role. We as an audience, now 25 years later, have a connection to these actors who were just gaining fame at the time or maybe some were in the middle of their careers and now the movie has held up a. because the subject matter is compelling and b. because the acting is stunning. I thought it was a very compelling three hours…

ZS: Oh yeah, that’s another thing that Roger Ebert writes about, that it’s just an insanely fast-moving and entertaining movie because the longer it goes on, the more entranced you are by this web of characters and evidence and it does a very strong job or channeling his [Garrison’s …or Stone’s?] obsession and makes you feel it, too. Any good mystery film is like that.

SS: It’s a tough thing to pull off – the theatrical cut is three hours and eight minutes and Director’s Cut, on top of that (and at this point, if you’re going to commit 188 minutes, you may as well commit the extra half an hour), is around 208 minutes.

ZS: I think the Director’s Cut was the version I watched, but it did not seem that long. It did not feel like it was three hours.

SS: What do you think about the shift in tone as the first part of the movie where we go through and we meet this character, we meet Jim Garrison and it goes through his investigation and these theories that keep popping up and then we actually see the courtroom drama. It turns into a courtroom drama, which is a completely different style of film. It doesn’t seem out-of-place and yes, we want to see this. What did you think about including this? It could have faded out 45 minutes earlier and ended with a parting shot that Clay Shaw trial was this and this and this and read the, “where are they now,” bit. And it does this…after the fact.  Continue reading “[1991] JFK II”