Friday, December 28, 2007

The Sound of Music

Book: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, an autobiography written by Maria von Trapp, came out in 1949 in the US. It was a best-seller, translated into several languages. The book relates the story of the family, from the time Maria was called into the von Trapp family to the time after Georg von Trapp died. The Nazi invasion of Austria and the difficult adjustment to the American culture are depicted in detail. The book is very religious and reflects Maria's Catholic faith.

Movie: The Sound of Music (1965) is one of the most successful musicals of all time. It is actually based on Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's musical, and Maria von Trapp's book was uncredited. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for the movie, and it was directed by Robert Wise. It starred Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Georg von Trapp. The book also spawned two successful German/Austrian films, Die Trapp-Familie (1956) and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958). However, I'm not going to discuss those, as I haven't seen them.

Plot differences: The beginning is the same. That's about it. The plot of the book, based on the true story, is really too long to outline briefly, but here are the key differences:
* In the book, Maria comes to the house to teach a sick child called Maria. The other children don't need a governess because they go to school outside the house. In the movie, she's the governess of all of the children.
* In the book, the Nazis take over Austria eleven years after Maria and Georg are married. In the film, the Nazi rule has come while they were on their honeymoon.
* Their singing career began some years before the Nazis came; in the movie, their first performance is connected to their escape from the Nazis.
* There was no "Liesl falls in love with the postman" story in the book.
* In the book, they escape to the US on a singing tour, and stay there. In the movie, they escape in a car and then walk over the Alps to safety.

Character differences: Captain's friend, the freeloader, was not in the book. He never existed, and it seems like he's there to bring comic relief to the movie. The role of the Baroness was expanded and changed to some extent. The Captain's fiancee never visited the house, and their breakup wasn't as obvious as it is in the movie.

The children's real names were Rupert, Agathe, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna, and Martina.
The children's names in the movie were Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl. I don't get it. Not one name was the same. Are consonant+ L names supposedly more Austrian than their original names? Why was Rupert changed into Liesl? Why would someone give their children names as similar as Liesl and Louisa? Arrghh. Also, not to nitpick but their mother had died seven years earlier - and Gretl was five. Maria and Georg's children Rosmarie, Eleonor and Johannes are not in the movie.

Author opinion: Maria von Trapp was happy with the movie, saying the most important difference was that they changed the children's names. Eldest son Rupert von Trapp, however, was bitter about the fact that they replaced him with a girl. Later on, Maria complained about her meager royalties from the movie.

My opinion:
The book and the movie are two completely different things. You can't really even compare them in this case. The movie is a classic; it's a completely made up story, and as such, it works rather well. It's a charming fairytale for children and adults alike, naïve and innocent compared to modern films, and it's difficult to judge by today's standards. Some things, like the children's names, grate. I'm not too happy with the whole "hiding in the abbey from the Nazis" plot either, as it's nowhere near the real events. I mean, Maria and Georg von Trapp were married in 1927, and the Nazis came in 1938. But then, how could they have made a movie with such a long timeline that would somehow incorporate the fact that the von Trapps had to learn to speak English when they moved to America, even if they spoke English throughout the film, and so forth?

The love story between "Liesl" and the postman was completely unnecessary and kind of suggests that it's "young love" the audience wants, not a love story between a middle-aged widower and a youngish nun. It's kind of odd that they added that. Also, during Sixteen Going on Seventeen, it's pretty obvious that the actress was 21. The other children get a very small role in the movie, particularly Marta and Gretl. They're not so much depicted as individuals as a group of generic children, happily singing and jumping behind Maria and doing whatever she wants. We're just supposed to buy that everyone liked Maria from the start and that there were no problems in adjusting to the new mother. I know that this is normal for a family musical of the era, but it still seems naïve for a modern viewer.

The book is way too religious for a Hollywood movie, of course. It's way too religious for a secular reader, even. Maria von Trapp had her own idea of religion, of how to raise children, and so forth. She had pretty strict values and the book is rather "educational" in a way that Hollywood couldn't possibly have incorporated. It might interest some readers to know that the children didn't really like her all that much (at least at first), that her own daughter ran away from home at age sixteen, and that she bugged the film studio with her wishes and commands. She doesn't sound like such a great person from that description. But the book is written from her own perspective, and she keeps stressing how close they were as a family and how all families should be just like them. It's difficult to know what the truth was. Julie Andrews is charming in the role, in any case.

Truth be told, both the movie and the book are so dated that I have difficulty criticizing them. I wasn't alive when either of them came out. The Sound of Music is actually the first movie my mother ever saw in the theatre, and she's 55 now. In fact, the book constantly refers to how things are in Europe as opposed to the US. Pretty much every single thing here has changed so that it's now the same in Europe, and it feels weird to think that there was such a huge difference between the cultures back then.

Of course, if you look at the movie, there was no difference - rich Austrians spoke English and drank pink lemonade, making small talk like in American movies.


Jordan said...

I loved the movie better than I would have the book!

Hansen said...

The mother abbess said several. You said on there 7.

Roy said...

Many thanks. I enjoyed your comments.