Just how popular was The Sound of Music around the world? Country by country, continent by continent, the craze rolled on; captivating millions and frustrating critics. The first-run release was such a resounding commercial success that in 1967, the profits generated by the musical allowed the board at Fox to increase dividends by twenty cents per share.
The audience arrived in waves. Then, they just kept on coming. First, fans of musicals came. Then came the ever-growing tribe of Julie Andrew fans. Finally came those who longed to see a film with a happy ending. One of the main reasons why The Sound of Music was such an astounding success was that fans of the movie returned to see it again and again. Half a century has passed and the musical continues to be popular.
But what is its appeal?
The Sound of Music represents–and continues to represent–a mental oasis amidst the ongoing fear that a simpler and more decent and civilised past is now lost forever. For audiences who returned to see the musical over and over again, it allowed them to return to a place and a state of mind where something more peaceful once existed.
It was the ability to return and to once again live in the hope that old sentiments of innocence, certainty and even safety could be experienced one more time.
Nostalgia–a life approach based on old emotions in lieu of hard facts–flourishes whenever times are tough because it allows us to improve upon the actual realities of the day. Experiences and relationships, when viewed through rose-tinted glasses, result in a view of the past as being devoid of pain.
The success of the musical can be attributed to its ability to repeatedly deliver a much sought after happily ever after.
The Universal Family
The musical Von Trapp family touched a universal chord by presenting viewers with a wounded family that most likely mirrored their very own. Everyone can relate to a family who has suffered a loss and is trying to do its best to make ends meet. The archetypal story of a wounded family healed by an outsider represented a sense of wish fulfilment.
Decades later, the film’s continued appeal lies in the fact that the mere mention of the title conjures up memories of watching it as a child. It is a world where wrongs would always be righted, fair play would prevail and a benevolent deity watched over all.
The relationship between a parent and a child is central to the story. It allowed audiences to believe that underneath their own father’s uncommunicative and harsh exterior; there lay a post-Maria Captain Von Trapp, an aggrieved soul that had the potential to be whole again.
Time and Place
Part of the success can also be attributed to timing. At the time, viewers craved this sort of warm and emotional family entertainment. As timing comes down to the luck factor in film-making, there’s nothing like getting there ‘on time’.
Despite how the musical took the international market by storm, the reception was lukewarm in Germany and Austria. The hard truth was that it flopped outright. Local audiences did not warm to the Hollywoodized version of Austria. In addition, the Nazi-era setting reminded the population of an era that they were in the midst of recovering from.
Ultimately, the film was a hit amongst audiences who wished that life was like what they saw on the screen–a fable that would come to life.
But for those who knew the difference, the story couldn’t have been further from the truth.