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В Нью-Йоркере уже лет десять заседает злобно-снобский восхитительный англичанин Антони Лэйн, кинокритик и мастер тонкого стеба (очень рекомендую прикупить на амазоне подборку его статей, "Nobody's Perfect.") Мне с утра прислали отсканированное любимое из сборника - задумчивое путешествие Лэйна в мир лондонского общественного перформанса Звуки Музыки в стиле The Rocky Horror Picture Show II, под аккомпанемент комментария на сам фильм тридцать лет спустя. Как-то раз мы декламировали особо выдающееся куски в сабвее в час утра, под восторженный вой маргинальной публики. В сети нет, так что выкладываю довольно длинный текст здесь.



Anthony Lane, The Sound of Music

Let's start at the very beginning. (It's a very good place to start.) Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in 1905. As a young woman, she became a postulant at the Nonnberg Abbey, in Salzburg, Austria, but suffered from ill health. It was deemed beneficial that she should venture outside and adopt the post of governess in the home of a naval captain. She married him in 1927, which put an end to any postulating. The captain already had seven children; Maria bore him three more and formed a family musical group, whose success was cut short when Hitler invaded his native land. Even now, no historian has been able to ascertain if this was a genuine bid for power or the only possible means whereby the Führer could eradicate the threat of close-harmony singing.
Maria and her family fled to Italy, England, and, finally, the United States. The captain died in 1947; two years later, Maria published The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. In 1956, the book was turned into a hit German movie; theatrical producers began to sniff around, and in November 1959, The Sound of Music, with original songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opened on Broadway. Twentieth Century Fox soon acquired the movie rights, but the film proved hard to bring to birth. After nearly five years of wrangles and pangs, The Sound of Music, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews, had its New York premiere, on March 2, 1965. To date, the picture has earned 160 million dollars. It remains the most popular musical film in history. One woman in Wales has seen it almost a thousand times. In Hong Kong, it is entitled Fairy Music Blow Fragrant Place, Place Hear.
All of which is how I came to be standing on a sidewalk on a dark December evening, waving a foam nun.

***

The Prince Charles Cinema sits in central London, a hundred yards east of Piccadilly, between the Notre Dame dance hall and a row of Chinese restaurants. When it opened, in 1991, the idea was that you could catch new and recent pictures for less than two dollars—a fraction of what they cost around the corner, in the plush movie theatres of Leicester Square. Even now, the Prince Charles has nobly resisted the urge to smarten up; the furnishings are a touching tribute to wartime brown, and the stalls, flouting a rule of theatrical design which has obtained since the fifth century B.C., appear to slope downward toward the hack, so that customers in the rear seats can enjoy an uncluttered view of their own knees. The cinema shows three or four films a day; come the weekend, everything explodes. Since August, every Friday evening and Sunday afternoon the program has been the same: "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music."
The idea is simple. You watch the film—uncut, as nature intended, in a scuzzy print, with alarming color shifts as the reels change. The only difference is the added subtitles, which come alive, like the hills, during every song. These enable viewers to join in, which they do with undisguised lustiness. The titling of The Sound of Music was prepared by Martin Wagner, for London's National Film Theatre, and it struck me as the one work of unquestionable genius that I encountered last year. I tend to be embarrassed by subtitles; their audacious efforts to snatch at foreign vernaculars end up stressing, rather than allaying, the alien qualities of the setting. With The Sound of Music, however, they bring home just how tightly, even soothingly, we are wrapped in this unignorable film. In a sense, Wagner had a head start; what was required was not translation from another tongue but the simple transcription, for karaoke purposes, of words that most of us know pretty well. (I was appalled to discover that, after a thirty-year break, I was close to word-perfect.) This, however, is where Wagner shows his hand; who else would have thought to include the Latin chant that rises from the abbey as we pan down from Julie Andrews on a hillside and get ready for "(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria?" I had never noticed it before—no audience is meant to notice filler, the blah that keeps a soundtrack ticking along—but suddenly there it was at the bottom of the screen ("In saecula saeculorum"). Things get even better halfway through the picture, as the children gather at the foot of the stairs to bid the party guests good night. Friedrich sings, and the tides follow him closely:

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu,
Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu.

That was it for me. For thirty years, I have wondered about this torturing little rhyme. It should have been easy to avoid; if you want "Adieu" to chime with "you," don't pronounce it in French—simply opt for the Anglicized version, "Adyoo," and take it from there. But no: The Sound of Music made a tragic move to sound classy, and it paid the price. As for the yodelling in the puppet scene, it inspires Wagner to his finest work—a cluster bomb of meaningless vowels. For anyone who believes that The Sound of Music shows Hollywood at its most hopelessly square, what could be more bracing than to see it reborn as a Dadaist art happening?
All nonsense is a pleasure, of course, from Lewis Carroll down to Alexander Haig, but what lends particular spice to The Sound of Music is that it is known nonsense, remembered and revered. And that is why the Prince Charles has become a place of pilgrimage. It occasionally screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show, too, to a gathering of addicts. But that film is already armored by a sense of camp; nothing you can throw at it will dent its knowingness, whereas The Sound of Music, the most unwitting of cults, is blissfully up for grabs.
When I arrived on a Friday night, an hour before the start, the area around the cinema was packed. To be specific, it was packed with nuns. Many of them bore guitars. I was one of the few pathetic creatures who had not made the effort to come in costume. There were Nazis, naturally, as in every major city, plus a load of people who looked like giant parcels. I didn't get it. "Who are they?" I said to a nun who was having a quick cigarette before the film. She looked at me with celestial pity and blew smoke. "Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings," she replied. I am relieved, on the whole, that I missed the rugby team who piled into one screening as Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes; on the other hand, it is a source of infinite sadness to me that I wasn't at the Prince Charles when a guy turned up in a skintight, all-over body costume in bright yellow; asked which character he was intended to represent, he explained that he was Ray, a Drop of Golden Sun. I have hung around the entrance a couple of times as showtime approached, just in case this heroic gentleman returns as Warm Woollen Mittens—or, more challenging still, as Tea, a Drink with Jam and Bread—but no luck so far.
The impressive thing about all this is the apostolic level of dedication. I sat in a whole row of nuns—nurses from a private hospital, as it happened, having a cheap night out. (One had lovingly constructed her wimple from black cloth and a rolled-up pair of white knickers.) During the screening, they drank beer in almost Austrian quantities; one of them kept jumping up and hurrying to the exit. "What's the matter with that nun?" I asked the beefy sister beside me. "Pregnant," she said.
Nominally a reserved people, the British like to bottle up their exhibitionist tendencies and then, at opportune moments, let them flood out in а rush; this is the basis of pantomime, for instance, with its flagrant worship of cross-dressing. Even now, there is almost certainly a quiet soul who is preparing to attend The Sound of Music as Schnitzel with Noodles. To brush yourself with egg and roll around in bread crumbs for a while requires a nerveless ingenuity; but to walk to the nearest tube trailing ribbons of buttered pasta, and to sit on the train with a dignified expression, in the thick of the Friday rush hour, argues a fortitude bordering on the superhuman. I couldn't do it, but somebody will, and I think I know who that somebody will be. "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" is currently starting a British national tour, and then, in April, it will hit America, where bottling is less of an issue. Twentieth Century Fox will not yet name the lucky cinemas where it will screen, but I can safely reveal that New York and San Francisco, among others, should be girding their loins for Schnitzel Time.
It goes without saying that "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" is now a compulsory fixture on the gay calendar; it began life, indeed, as a one-off special for the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Every screening gets its own emcee, who oversees a Best Costume competition during the intermission. (One week, just to confuse the issue, the winner was a real nun. What did she think the other nuns were?) At my screening, there was Rhona Cameron, a cheery Scottish lesbian who hosts a gay show on British TV Rhona checked that there were no children in the audience, and then issued instructions: "Don't worry if you can't sing; the gay men in the audience will carry you." Fragrant music blow fairy place, place go wild.
I usually loathe any hint of live entertainment at the movies, preferring to hibernate in peace and quiet; but "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" launches so frontal an assault on reticence that everyone caves in. It is a stout rebuke to the couch culture of "home cinema"—a contradiction in terms, if ever I heard one. The bloodless interaction promised by DVD technology, for instance, in which the lone viewer can pause The Matrix to command a reverse view of Keanu Reeves's butt, cannot hold a candle to the sight of two hundred people whistling at Christopher Plummer when he enters with a riding crop, and waving their lighters above their heads, like a rock crowd, during his rendition of "Edelweiss." For an extra five dollars, ticket-holders at the Prince Charles can buy a helpful gift pack that includes a fake edelweiss, a packet of cough drops for sore throats, a head scarf, and, yes, a small foam-rubber nun, in which you are urged to "stick your fingers" and "sway along."
The repartee at "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" is of the very highest order. "Free the nuns!" was the cry as the sisters clustered behind an iron grille during Maria's wedding. Some of the backchat involves a dexterous cross-reference to other works; when Maria, having been ticked off by the Baroness (Eleanor Parker), packs her bag to leave, someone shouted, "Don't forget the hat stand!"—reminding us of a similar scene in Mary Poppins. And, as the Mother Abbess lingered in the shadows in preparation for "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," she was told in no uncertain terms, "Do not go into the light!"—the tag line from Poltergeist, if you please. The instructions issued to Rolf as he danced with Liesl in the gazebo came from somewhere behind my shoulder; they were explicit, and they were repeated with such urgency that, after a while, they acquired the padios of a plea—as if it were in some way unsportsmanlike, even unromantic, for a seventeen-year-old Nazi not to deflower a motherless sixteen-year-old while he had the chance. "You need someone older and wiser telling you what to do," crooned Rolf, and we sniggered at his nerve.
The joke is, of course, that Charmian Carr, who plays Liesl, was already twenty-one when the film was made (she kept quiet at the audition), and thus in no need of tutelage from a mere boy; the deeper joke is that, in the history of blockbusting movies, nothing can touch The Sound of Music for sheer, blank indifference to the reproductive act. No wonder Heather Menzies, who played Louisa, answered the call to strip for Playboy in the 19705; the pressure of untouchability must have felt like prison. Captain Von Trapp has seven children, but the enigma of his fertility remains as unplumbed as his willingness, as a serving naval officer, to play the guitar in public. The baroness, with her glinting coiffure and cinched suits, could be taken, in a certain light, for a woman of the world; yet the captain throws her over for the sake of a certifiable virgin with a boy's haircut. "For here you are, standing there, loving me," he and Maria sing to one another; love, in so immaculate a world, is pure abstraction, unruffled by the physical. In the intermission at the Prince Charles, Rhona Cameron asked one nun what she liked best about the film. Without hesitation, the nun replied, "The sex."

***

The Sound of Music is not a good film. It is blithe, efficient, and constructed with care; the songs are carolled con brio; but it is not a good film. Famously, it received some of the most noxious notices of its era. Steeped in the flow of the counterculture, American critics should have been ready for the sight of small children dressed in flowery curtains, but somehow the psychedelic properties of the film eluded them. In the Herald Tribune, Judith Grist called it "icky sticky," as if she'd needed to rinse her hands afterward. In McCall's, Pauline Kael continued the candy motif, trashing the movie as a "sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat"; her review so affronted readers that she was fired from her post and landed shortly afterward at this magazine. Here she reigned supreme for the next quarter of a century, thus proving that The Sound of Music is so saintly that it confers a happy ending on all who touch its hem, even those of little faith. The film did more than any other, perhaps, to widen the split between critics and public from crack to chasm; it encouraged producers, like political hopefuls, to reach out over the heads of professional carpers and appeal directly to popular taste. (That it collared the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1966 merely sealed the deal.) The way to solve a problem like Maria is to love her for what she is, with or without wimple, and the movie begs the same indulgence; by ignoring the mean of spirit, it wishes them away.
All of which serves only to confirm the Kael line, and to demonstrate that you can fool all of the people all of the time. The lies perpetuated by Wise's film range from the personal—the real Maria Von Trapp, for instance, looked nothing like Julie Andrews and an awful lot like Nice Guy Eddie from Reservoir Dogs—to the broadly historical. If the Nazis' worst crime had indeed been to hang swastikas over people's doorways, the twentieth century would have been somewhat easier to bear. I was a sucker for such untruths; my family even travelled to Salzburg in order to haunt the byways where Julie Andrews had made so ringingly clear what the first three notes just happened to be. Being below critical age, I did not yet grasp the criteria by which a film could be adjudged good or bad, much less the procedures by which it arrived onscreen. If you had explained that the screenplay for The Sound of Music came from the pen of one Ernest Lehman, who had written North by Northwest and Sweet Smell of Success, this bewildering detail would have been lost on me.
To be fair, even some of his friends had trouble taking it in. When Burt Lancaster ran into Lehman at the Fox commissary and learned what he was working on, he said, "Jesus, you must need the money." That story comes from Julia Antopol Hirsch's The Sound of Music: The Making of America's Favorite Movie, a loving compendium of arcana. Here we learn, for instance, that both Walter Matthau and Scan "Edelweish" Connery were considered for the role of the captain. A more damning fact is that some of the Osmond boys turned up to audition, thus demonstrating that, however much The Sound of Music makes your flesh crawl, it could have been so much worse.
You could argue that the triumphal saga of the Von Trapp family was so sweetly outlandish that any dramatic representation of it was doomed to rot the teeth. But consider another family, the Smiths of Missouri— equally close, no less pure of heart, and, like the Von Trapps, given to bursting into song at the slightest provocation. So why does Meet Me in St. Louis maintain the status of a nimble masterpiece, while The Sound of Music limps along behind? Then again, how come Vicente Minnelli's picture of 1944 was reckoned merely a success, while Robert Wise's picture, made twenty years later, is a gold-plated phenomenon? The answer to both questions is the same: because Minnelli showed happiness to be the most fragile of possessions, whereas Wise backed it as a sure thing. For all the highs and lows of its melodrama, The Sound of Music never dreams that there is any way but up, whether you are ascending a scale or an alp; and that, today and forever, is what moviegoers want to hear. "From now on, our troubles will be out of sight," Judy Garland sings near the end of Meet Me in St. Louis, but the throb and catch in her voice give the lie to such game hope, and, by the penultimate line of the number, the message is decidedly mixed: "We'll have to muddle through somehow." Julie Andrews, by comparison, is a muddle-free zone: "I have confidence in confidence alone; Besides which, you see, I have confidence in me!"
Garland was singing during the Second World War, of course, when a certain lyrical worry was inevitable. Andrews hit her stride in the midst of me cold war; the whole of The Sound of Music can perhaps be read as the artistic equivalent of antifreeze. It offered one of the last breaths of innocence in American cinema—after all, the same year saw female nudity in The Pawnbroker, and Bonnie and Clyde was only two years away. That is why we go back to Wise's film; we all know better now, but most of us secretly wish that we didn't. The atmosphere at the Prince Charles, during "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music," was strangely unmocking, even in its coarsest moments. We assume that deconstruction is a heartless business, in which the vengeful ironist strips the decorous past to its underclothes; but the hoarse crowd that streamed out into Leicester Square seemed to have drawn strength from a communal act of fond consolidation. When they cried at "Edelweiss," it was not because the song is, in itself, anything more than slush; it was because they had cried at it in 1965.
Film, in other words, has revivified the Proustian principle that memory is not ours to command; that, for all our searchings and suppressings, the past comes unbidden or not at all. If, for millions of people, that past consists of a lonely goatherd on strings, so be it. Proust himself was more fortunate; for him, a typical throwback consisted of tripping over a paving stone and suddenly recalling a similar stumble in Venice. Few of us can rely on such tasteful apparitions. It is generally agreed, for example, that the last Golden Age of cinema occurred in die mid-seventies—die epoch of The Godfather, Chinatown, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I feel privileged to have been there; unfortunately, I spent my pocket money on tickets for Zeppelin, Earthquake, and Rollercoaster (in Sensurround). I now realize that Chinatown is a great picture and that The Towering Inferno is dreck; but the sight of a weary, begrimed Steve McQueen emerging from the tower is burned into my mind with a fierceness that Jack Nicholson, with his nicked nostril, can never match. I missed the Golden Age; catching up later was an education, but nothing I can do will bring it back.
What we feel about a movie — or, indeed, about any work of art, high or low — matters less than the rise and fall of our feelings over time. The King Lear that we see as sons and daughters (of Cordelia's age, say) can never be the same play that we attend as parents; the sound of paternal fury, and of the mortal fears that echo beyond it, will knock ever more insistently at our hearts. Weekly critics cannot do justice to that process; when we are asked to nominate favorite films, all we can say is "Well, just now I quite like Citizen Kane or Police Academy 4, but ask me again next year." By then we will have grown, by a small but significant slippage, into someone else, and we have yet to know who that person will be, or what friable convictions he or she will hold. The revellers at the Prince Charles Cinema were all in their thirties and forties; no one younger than us would have had the remotest clue what we were doing there, or why we were having such fun. Even our younger selves, of ten years ago, would probably have been mystified, if not humiliated, by the air of semi-delirium that prevailed; how could consenting adults join forces to declare their love for a bad film? Time, as ever, has played its comic trick, and all I can do is adapt the words of Captain Von Trapp and his lovely governess: somewhere in our youth or childhood, we must have seen something good.

February 14, 2000


PS В Вене дождь, очень соблазнительно блестит золотая капуста Сецессиона, у меня странное какое-то похмелье

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