There are moments in cinema that can never be erased. They keep playing and replaying in one's inward eye as William Wordsworth once visualised in a poem. He penned:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
One of the best scenes that keep flashing in my inward eye is the opening shot in The Sound of Music. Set in the last days of the golden years of Austrian music, just before Hitler's army marched in, the movie begins with a bird's eye view of Maria (played with exceptional brilliance by Julie Andrews) as she sings: The hills are alive with the sound of music...of the songs they have sung for a thousand years...” The camera slowly closes in on her, and we know what happens next -- and later.
It could not have been a more fitting tribute to Andrews that the upcoming Venice Film Festival has chosen to honour her with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. And what an achievement it has been for her.
Born and raised in England, she turned out to be a child prodigy, when at age 12 she became a phenomenal singer – on stage and on radio. She was still a teenager when she crossed the Atlantic for her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend (1953). Three years later, she transformed herself into Eliza Doolittle in Alan Jay Lerner's and Frederick Loewe's Broadway musical, My Fair Lady – exasperating Professor Higgins to sing, “Why can't a woman be more like a man”. But the man, played by Rex Harrison in the 1964 screen adaptation of the theatrical production, falls hopelessly in love with the flower girl. Unfortunately, Andrews did not play in the film version, the part going away to Audrey Hepburn.
But the same year, Mary Poppins, much like the magical nanny in the movie, fell from Heaven. And Andrews was simply superb in the Walt Disney fantasy as a woman who comes to rescue the Banks family in the dark and depressing days of 1910 Edwardian London. The Academy Award for Best Actress went to her.
As Queen Guinevere in the musical, Camelot, and in the title role in The Americanisation of Emily (opposite James Garner), Andrews was unforgettable. A comedy set in war-ravaged London The Americanisation of Emily was her favourite work. Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, Modern Millie, Darling Lilie were some of the other feathers in her cap.
Recently she helmed an extraordinary revival of My Fair Lady, which opened at the Sydney Opera House to rave reviews , and breaking all boxoffice records.
Miss Andrews has come a full circle, and when she arrives on the Lido sailing through the Venetian lagoons and canals, it will be sheer magnificence, once again, of a star who has been such a fantastic performer.
(Author, Commentator and Movie Critic Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Venice Film Festival on the island of Lido)