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From the Whistler


When The Sound of Music premiered in 1965, the elite East Coast journals and newspapers panned it. In a fairly tongue-in-cheek review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times found the “hopeless pretense of reality” in the film was too much for even Julie Andrews to overcome:


Miss Andrews, with her air of radiant vigor, her appearance of plain-Jane wholesomeness and her ability to make her dialogue as vivid and appeal­ing as she makes her songs, brings a nice sort of Mary Poppins logic and authority to this role, which is always in peril of collapsing under its weight of romantic nonsense and sentiment.


Judith Crist in The New York Herald Tribune was even harsher: “The movie is for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who think their kids aren't up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of 'Mary Poppins.'” Pauline Kael of McCall’s called it “the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat.” It was not until the more mainstream publications, such as the LA Times (“three hours of visual and vocal brilliance”) and Variety (“magnificently mounted and with a brilliant cast”) reviewed the film that the tide began to turn. The Sound of Music wound up being the Best Picture of 1965 at the Oscars, along with winning Best Director and (a no-brainer) Best Music, beginning its apotheosis into what we now view as one of the brightest constellations in our musical sky.

How did those early critics get it so wrong? A good reviewer of books, movies, theater, etc. will have a general grasp of the laws of aesthetics, background knowledge of the field, the intellectual discipline to resist peccadillos and grudges, and an intuitive feel for how their readership will respond to a work of art. Crist, Kael et. al. may have had all those talents, and their reviews may have been spot on for the East Coast intellectuals of the ‘60s—indeed some film snobs still consider The Sound of Music to be confectionery dross. What is more difficult for a critic is to predict how “history” will judge a work—to imagine how an ordinary guy or gal on the street in fifty years will see it.

And it’s not always the elite intellectuals who get it wrong. When The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975, Newsweek (one of the few publications that didn’t entirely ignore the film) pronounced it “tasteless, plotless, and pointless.”

I trust that quote will not be applied to the new issue of Whistling Shade. It sports a bit of Wordsworth, a hint of Silence of the Lambs, a detour to Beverly Hills High fifty years ago—and a little schlock as well, courtesy of an air-born Superior Sea Cow. You may also have noticed the color cover. This is part of our effort to reinvent the Shade, after almost twenty years, as a paid subscription journal. We will no longer be freely available in libraries or cafes (unless we have extra and you happen along at just the right time). We will be for sale in local book stores for $3, and of course you can always subscribe to the print issue, pay $1 for a PDF download, or wait another month or two to view our issue online for free.

- Joel Van Valin