Put aside thy hipster hats and ye alt-punk, post modern attitude, Dear Peeps.
Come with me and ease on down the road to another time and another place when melodies were king and songwriting was rising to a standard that would inspire generations of writers like Lennon and McCartney to go one better. Come and try to appreciate a romantic and emotion-filled film called The Sound of Music. I was four years old when it came out and I remember it distinctly as a very happy memory from my early childhood. But beyond that, this film spawned so many wonderful pop songs that are now standards in the repertoire of modern performers, from “My Favorite Things” to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” And face it, what would the world be like today if Gwen Stefani hadn’t had a source for her song and video “Wind it Up” (which pulls music from “The Lonely Goatherd”)?
BUT FIRST, BACK TO MONO
Last year I came across a neat LP — a mono British pressing (LP) of the movie soundtrack to The Sound of Music (SOM). As I said, I was a very little kid when this landmark film came out, but I remember it distinctly as my parents took us to the theater to see it. My mother subsequently bought the soundtrack album and played it all the time — Mom liked shows that were about encouragement, independence, and survival, so it’s no surprise that this one resonated with her. Today as an adult I have replicated many of the records Mom had in my own collection — hey, good music is good music for the ages!
Putting on this mono SOM LP and playing it on my Music Hall 7.1 turntable, I heard a sound of music (if you will) that was unlike any prior version of this soundtrack I’ve heard before — I had owned the orange RCA Dynaflex previously and at this time I had a quite good condition black label RCA stereo pressing to reference. Comparing the US stereo to the UK mono pressing, I heard essentially a completely different sound that was much more direct and in your face. The stereo track was pretty weak in comparison, the mix almost falling apart in fairly severe left right channels separation (as was the common practice with early stereo mixes at that time in popular music).
Shortly after obtaining this LP, I read about the coming release of a 45th Anniversary edition of SOM on Blu-ray Disc, including an uber-deluxe package with all the buzzers and bells one could imagine. It was going for about $100 list price, and coupled with the onslaught of heady box sets by the likes of Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and The Who (each of which I reviewed here), I never got around to purchasing SOM. Fast forward: Home Tech Tell editor Dennis Burger writes about SOM getting a dramatic reduction in price on Amazon.com — for $29! “Swwweeeet!,” I said to myself, thinking that as soon as I moved into my new apartment I would treat myself to this grand bargain. Well, I’m all moved in and I got that and more, as last week Amazon had a one day sale-on-a-sale, lobbing even more off the original price — so yes, I got the super SOM box for about $25! It arrived this weekend and I am really very pleased with it.
Let me get my one nit out of the way: whoever did the menu design for this disc did a great job, but the engineering department dropped the ball in one crucial area: loading indicators! When I first put the disc in, I thought it might be broken, as the screen flashed for a split second and then the LCD on my Oppo player simply showed something like this ( — — — — — — — ) instead of something like “Top Menu” or “Loading” and giving us some sort of indicator on screen that the thing was in fact doing its thing (if you will). I have learned that with technology, patience is a virtue, and indeed the disc eventually did load up and a lovely menu screen appeared that was very easy and nice to navigate.
The movie itself is absolutely gorgeous, and the Blu-ray Disc version doesn’t disappoint, with spectacularly lush colors and breathtaking detail revealing the intricate nuance that earned the film and its producer Robert Wise five (count ’em, 5!) Oscars that year!
The bonus features are a great deal of fun, including numerous screen tests delineating the casting process (Mia Farrow was considered at one point!) and fascinating song-by-song mini-documentaries with commentary about how each song was created.
One of my favorite bonuses, however, is a simply charming segment from a 1973 Julie Andrews TV Show (who knew? Julie had her own talk show?) featuring none other than Maria Von Trapp as a guest — to hear the real Maria duet with Julie Andrews (the movie’s Maria) is just mesmerizing, as you get a sense of two generations meeting, sharing a mutual love for music. Plus, it brings to life the harsh reality that the Von Trapp family’s story (which this movie is based on) is a true and harrowing tale of love and survival in the face of Nazi oppression pre World War II. Just stunning.
SOUNDS GOOD: ALMOST LIKE MONO… PLUS!
Going back to the audio, the DTS-HD Master Audio surround track sounds quite good — excellent, even, at times. But I noticed something curious about the mix: it sounds very similar to the mono mix on the UK LP! Sure, the instrumentation is spread out in the surrounds, giving you a great sense of the sound stage where the orchestra was recorded (I only have 5.1 channels, but the disc will go up to 7.1 channels). Nontheless, the vocals for the most part come out of the center channel and are very direct and in your face… almost like a sort of hybrid mono mix.
The surrounds mostly come into play during the musical portions (fortunately this is a musical, so you hear them a whole bunch). Once in a while the engineers try to deliver a bit of left-right stereo separation in dialogue when appropriate to the action on screen (ie. a character on the right sounds like it is coming from the right speaker, and vice versa the left). However, this is almost superficial and I dismiss it as a bit of gimmicky experimentation for the then-still-relatively-new stereo technology. The performances of the Nuns in the Abbey is quite gorgeous, putting you in the midst of an old Austrian stone church. At the end of the day, the appeal of this movie is the fantastic story, glorious cinematography, and a wonderful ensemble cast that brought a Broadway classic to life for the ages on the silver screen.
“ONLY” 250,000 COPIES MADE
Oh yeah: what else do you get in the “limited edition” box set? Well there is a letter of authenticity, and a lovely hardcover book tracing the origins of the film from the original story through Maria Von Trapp’s book and subsequent German films, through the 1959 Broadway Stage production, a little story book version, and fun Sound of Music postcards from Salzburg, Austria, where much of the location shooting was done for the film. Most charmingly, they include a little music box that plays “My Favorite Things.” Mom would have loved this — it is a whole lot more appropriate and meaningful than the kinda dumb and cheesy wristwatch that came with the 70th Anniversary box set for The Wizard of Oz. You probably will enjoy this box set whether you pay $25 for it or the original $100 list. Its a charmer. And it’s still at $35 on Amazon, so you really should own this one.