Last member of ‘The Sound of Music’ family dies

Our favourite things: The von Trapp family story, brought to life by Julie Andrews, lives on.

Yesterday the news broke that the last of the family immortalised in ‘The Sound of Music’ had died. For a while it was the biggest grossing movie of all time. But why is it so divisive?

Cream-coloured ponies, crisp apple strudels and brown paper packages tied up with string. These are just some of the memorable lyrics sung by the actress Julie Andrews to seven enthralled children in the hit musical film, ‘The Sound of Music’.

Yesterday, headlines around the world announced that the last surviving member of the Trapp Family Singers, the group that inspired the musical, had died aged 99. Maria von Trapp was described by her brother as a ‘lovely woman who was one of the few truly good people.’

She was the second eldest daughter of the naval officer widower, Georg von Trapp. As a child, she suffered from a weak heart, which is why her father decided to hire his future wife, an ex-nun also called Maria, as a governess. The famous tale of the family’s escape from the Nazis was recorded in her 1949 memoir ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’.

The book, and the story behind it, inspired one of the most successful musicals of all time, written by the famous duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 1965 it was adapted into a film, which made a record-breaking $163 million, displacing ‘Gone with the Wind’ as the highest grossing film of all time and winning five Oscars.

Sweeping Salzburg panoramas, catchy, emotive songs, and the witty, wholesome Julie Andrews all helped make the film a success. But critics also point out that its enduring appeal lies in its sense of morality and innocence.

But not everyone is a fan. The film’s male lead, Christopher Plummer, nicknamed it ‘The Sound of Mucus’, such was his distaste for its saccharine content. The musical has also never been popular in Austria, where it was set, due to the uncomfortable questions it raises about Austrian collusion with the Nazis.

Raindrops on roses

The film has been described as sentimental, inaccurate and simplistic – a ‘sugar-coated lie’. It glosses over events such as the Anschluss – the Austrian embrace of Nazi power – as well as clumsily stereotyping Austrians as strudel-eating, costume-wearing simpletons. It wrongly portrays the Salzburg Festival as an amatueur music competition and makes up an Austrian national folk dance. It also did a great disservice to the real von Trapps, who barely made any money from the film’s success and were left out of the creative process.

But this doesn’t stop it being a great film, argue fans, with its award-winning songs, wholesome values, breath-taking panoramas and nostalgia for an idealised past. The fact that it still remains so popular today shows that the film’s romance, the ethical dilemmas of the characters, and a story about a simple way of life under threat from evil, still resonates with audiences.

You Decide

  1. Can films change the way we think about the world?
  2. Do you prefer films that are based on real events to ones that are purely imagined?

Activities

  1. Write a short article about a film that has influenced you, or that you believe has influenced the world.
  2. Write a scene for a film based on a real event.

Some People Say...

“Just because a film is a commercial success, it does not mean it is worth seeing.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ve never seen ‘The Sound of Music’. Should I?
As one of the most popular musical creations ever made, it’s certainly worth watching, if only to see whether you think it earns its place as one of the highest grossing films ever made. Even for those who do not like musicals, it is a fascinating study into Hollywood’s ability to manipulate historical events to suit our sentimental needs.
Does Maria von Trapp’s death mark the end of the world’s obsession with the film?
Well, it has generated just as much interest in the American actors who portrayed the von Trapps as the von Trapps themselves, if not more so. Reunions of the actors on shows such as Oprah Winfrey remain hugely popular and every year since 2005, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles holds an annual sell-out sing-a-long event.

Word Watch

Rodgers and Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the influential American duo behind many of the twentieth century’s most famous musicals, such as ‘South Pacific’, ‘The King and I’ and ‘Oklahoma!’. ‘The Sound of Music’ was their final collaboration.
Saccharine
Excessively sweet or sugary.
Austria
Tours of the city of Salzburg, where the film was set, remain popular to this day, despite many Austrian citizens never having seen it. Fans and tourists often believe that one of the musical’s most popular songs ‘Edelweiss’, is Austria’s national anthem, but it was actually written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Inaccurate
The names and ages of the von Trapp children were all changed in the film. Another key inaccuracy was the iconic ending, in which the family escapes over the Alps to Switzerland. In actual fact, they took a train to Italy. Had they attempted to escape over the mountains, they would have ended up in Germany, not Switzerland.

Subjects

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