On cliche, culture, and locating national identity in Wise’s epic musical
Cinema’s manipulative power as a tool in the enforcement of ideology came of age in the mid-twentieth century and has never abated. To counter the conflict and discordance of intellectualism, the cinematic image as vision provided the ultimate manipulated truth, the so-called “proof” of the primacy of the fascist order for Hitler, less so for Mussolini and Stalin. Opposing the bourgeois langue, is the historical “inevitability” of the fascist visual, which offers the audience the hermetically sealed reflection of required social and political behavior, Leni Riefenstahl‘s 1934 Nazi Party Congress film, Triumph des Willens, provided a nearly silent tapestry of National Socialism embedded in the recast images of German Romantic painting, architectural emblems of German history, and pseudo-religious, even messianic representation of the leader. Arguments have already been made rejecting a specific fascist aesthetic in this film; nevertheless, the very medium cannot avoid presenting what Walter Benjamin understood to be the ideological platform of fascism, a false totality.
Perhaps one of the more negative aspects of film’s influence on the world audience is the conveyance of a simplistic good/bad dichotomy. National and international stereotypes ranging from examples of subtle distinction to virulent racism have always been the easy danger of cinema. Here, also, a history written by the victors is undeniable and tends to remain emotional fodder. Much of the militaristic German that the world seems to know, arose from American and other Western dominant film aimed at battling the Kaiser and Hitler — but also from the constructs of Nazi propaganda film. It is no wonder then that international cinema continues to present a Nazi stereotype even when dealing with German characters in an era prior to National Socialism.
And what of Austria and the Austrian? Most English-speaking audiences would not know how to respond. If they are wise enough to know that Austrians speak German not Austrian and are found in Central Europe not in the Tasmanian Sea, they would equate Austria with Germany and perhaps be partially correct. European audiences might fare better, but even sharing a common history, the clichés would no doubt arise: Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful but troubled Empress Elisabeth or “Sissi,” Strauss waltzes, palaces, pastry, and the Alpine world. In short, a collection of indelible images as trivialized and promoted for tourism by contemporary Austria.
No doubt, the Habsburg monarchy in all its grandeur, class distinction and multiculturalism is the staple image for pre-1918 Austria throughout the history of international cinema. Whether we view the Hollywood translation of Viennese operetta, a historical epic, or a vitriolic parody of court life found in the silent films of Austrian émigré Erich von Stroheim, there is an irresistible Kakanien1 that is differentiated from any romanticized German past. Despite the differentiation of the First Austrian Republic, the Austrofascist period, the Anschluss, and the difficult postwar years, Anglo-American films depicting Austria from the 1920s through the Second World War, manage to conjure the Danubian monarchy and offer an ambiguous Austrian type who could be at once polyglot Viennese or provincial Tyrolean, aristocratic or common, and eventually a pawn in German hegemony. In short: a vague non-type. The 1942 film Once Upon a Honeymoon with Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant, is a prime example of this, as anachronistic images and types of an aristocratic Austria that ended in 1918 still seduces the social-climbing American heroine in 1940s Vienna, until she realizes that in Hitler’s Reich there can be no other ideology but Nazism.
Even Hollywood-Austrian Billy Wilder, whose gritty black and white Berlin rubble comedy, A Foreign Affair of 1946, which featured Marlene Dietrich as a seductive ex-Nazi in a city of black marketeering and guilt evasion, could not find a similar realistic Austria for the screen. The following year he offered The Emperor Waltz, a romantic imperial era comedy of aristocratic misalliance and Franz Joseph’s puppies, filmed in a Hollywood back lot and in Colorado (as stand ins for Schönbrunn Palace and the Alps) in garish, postcard-like Technicolor landscapes with Bing Crosby singing Strauss. What Wilder could not, perhaps would not do, Carol Reed accomplished, but his bleak vision of a war torn and occupied Vienna in his 1949 The Third Man is clearly an exception among the other films on Austria from the 1940s to the 1960s. There are several remakes of The Great Waltz and The Merry Widow as well as Carlo Ponti’s Emperor Waltz rehash, A Breath of Scandal (1962), complete with new songs by renowned Viennese operetta composer Robert Stolz. Austria as a neutral site between cold-war blocs adds a new element to the image: Vienna or even Salzburg becomes the center for spies, neo-Nazis and communist refugees in such films spanning The Red Danube (1949) to The Salzburg Connection (1972). Even though there are at least three treatments of the Mayerling tragedy2 spanning the 1920s to the mid 1960s from German, French and British cameras, contemporary Austria and the Austrian becomes even less defined than ever. Palaces and Alps still dominate, and the people and nation seem to be defined as what they are not: neither Germans nor Eastern Europeans, neither an influential political state, nor one that fulfills the immense cultural legacy of its imperial past. In the 1960s and 70s, Austrian directors who had fled Nazism for Hollywood3 attempted to offer images of an Austria that were taboo or at least highly controversial within Austria. Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963) gives us an Austria that cannot escape the mourning for its imperial past, a naive Cardinal Innitzer who miscalculates the meaning of Hitler’s Anschluss, and opera star Wilma Lipp singing Mozart to resistant Catholics while the Hitler Youth vandalizes the archbishop’s residence. Fred Zinnemann’s Julia depicts a violent Civil War of 1934, and draws an over-simplistic comparison of the 1934-38 Dollfuss/Schuschnigg clerical-authoritarian corporate state with Nazi Germany to favor the film’s cause of anti-fascism. I will return to this period in Austrian history in the discussion of The Sound of Music. More recently, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), an ambivalent Austrian is caught between the Holy Grail and the swastika in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail (1989). Perhaps given the fallout of the Waldheim era, Spielberg’s later Schindler’s List (1993), which divides the film into a battle of morality between the good and bad Nazi, offers the German Schindler as hero and humanist; the nominally Austrian Amon Goetz is the psychopathic concentration camp commandant.
In more contemporary themed films, Austria is a romantic backdrop much as Paris had been in “Golden Age” Hollywood film. This ranges from the James Bond opus, The Living Daylights (1987) to Richard Linklater’s Generation X adventure, Before Sunrise (1995). Milos Forman’s 1984 Czechoslovakian/American film of Peter Shaffer’s fictionalized Mozart and Salieri conflict, Amadeus,4 and the 1994 Beethoven biopic, Immortal Beloved, which like Amadeus manages to show a more a realistic picture of historical Austria than of its composer subjects, brought the classical musical image of Austria on film briefly back into style.
Nation as Film/Film as Nation
There is, however, a cinematic representative of Austria that is internationally appreciated, but it is a collection of fictionalized images most Austrians have never seen. The Sound of Music,5 the 1965 Hollywood film based on the Broadway musical by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and directed by Robert Wise,6 has consistently been one of the largest money-making films in history and one of the most popular with world audiences. Although honored with many film awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture, and having been hailed for its superb quality as an entertainment film, it has never been appreciated or taken seriously enough by film critics. The source of the original musical was the 1949 book The Story of the Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp,7 which also served as the basis for two West German features, Die Trapp-Familie (1956) and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958),8 both helmed by German/Austrian director Wolfgang Liebeneiener. The narrative structure of the first installment, scripted by Georg Hurdalek, appears to have influenced both the stage and film musical and Hurdalek’s name was later added post-release to the credits of the Robert Wise feature.
The film is substantially different than the musical play it is based on, primarily because the director has chosen to interpret the musical cinematically rather than remain loyal to the stage version. This required writer Ernest Lehman to reduce the characters and songs (although two new ones were composed for the film by Richard Rodgers), and revise the overall concept of what the fictionalized story of the von Trapp Family could represent. The film borrows heavily from the Austrian and German Heimatfilm, a genre popular in the from the 1930s to the 1960s, which ranged from provincial dramas that highlighted the idyllic countryside and emphasized conservative and Christian social values (National Socialist values during the Third Reich) to later comedies that spoofed the originals.9 The Sound of Music also recasts the Bergfilm (mountain film) tradition,10 from the mountain-centered salvation that opens and closes the film, to the German Romantic notion of nature’s purity and urban/or lowland corruption. Since the 1980s and 90s, the Bergfilm genre has found a resurrection of sorts in American cinema.11 The interrelationship between the characters too, echoes the constellation of the German Enlightenment dramas of G. E. Lessing and Friedrich Schiller, complete with a symbolic father/son conflict and various misalliances. As Linda Schulte-Sasse explores in her study of National Socialist film, the use of the 18th century Enlightenment to valorize bourgeois culture in Nazi cinema, naturally contradicted the politics of National Socialism, but the appeal and familiarity of its underlying literary paradigms guaranteed an illusion of wholeness and believability.12 Shifted in meaning to serve Nazi ideology, these literary/cinematic topoi are also used in Wise’s Sound of Music to create a hind-sighted anti-Nazi film. Naturally, the German Enlightenment types are also at the root of the film’s universality and appeal.
But placing theoretical concerns aside for the moment, it must be said that here is a film every Austrian should see, if only to discover what the world understands about Austria and the Austrians. As one of the most widely seen films in cinema history, it carries the strongest representation of Austria to the world, and as such, The Sound of Music is perhaps most influential in creating recognizable typing of the nation and its values. What is most fascinating about this seemingly trivialized resolution to the vague image of Austria in world cinema is the realization that the Austria presented in the film has hardly been the one which the Second Republic has attempted to show the world in its neutralist, Alpine republic identity. Nor has the topic of the anti-Nazi authoritarian state, the 1934-38 Austrofascist Ständestaat13 of the Chancellors Engelbert Dollfuss (1892-1934) and Kurt von Schuschnigg (1897-1977), found its way into the self-representation of Austria since 1945; it has in fact been avoided, and its leaders often maligned, in official as well as in artistic presentations. In Austria, The Sound of Music is allowed to represent the nation and especially Salzburg,14 and although it is rejected by critics for its Hollywood reductionism/trivialization of Austrian social and political history, it remains largely tolerated by those that have either not seen it or have not viewed it critically, as a positive foreign tribute to and even envoy of the nation.
The film is quite clearly an allegory for the Austrian Ständestaat, and casts an approving light on the era’s very general atmosphere. The film does not take critical issue or specifically define the period politically, but sets the action in “The last golden years of the Thirties” a suggestion of doomed Austrian sovereignty and freedom rather than the strife of the First Republic. The film’s two main characters who come to represent the Austrian nation and its struggle, Julie Andrews‘ Maria, a postulant in a convent and Christopher Plummer’s Captain von Trapp form the very dualism of the Ständestaat ideology. Like postimperial Austria, the Trapp family, although living in the remnant Austrian aristocratic tradition, are motherless and alienated from purpose or direction. As a naval officer without an ocean (Austria having become landlocked with the new borders of 1918/19), and a landed aristocrat without a monarch, Georg von Trapp’s identity and lifestyle is connected with the Habsburg past. He represents that conservative Austria which, from the inception of the First Republic through the Ständestaat, defined itself as Austrian author Alexander Lernet-Holenia labled it in his 1934 novel on the passing of the Empire, Die Standarte (The Standard): “was übrigblieb, als alles andre vergangen war” (that which remained after all else had disappeared)15 His Austria is one defined by a multicultural, cosmopolitan empire, which, given its otherness to Germany even as a small republic, must continue to create an identity based in its Habsburg heritage. Von Trapp’s Austrian nation is one of polyglot Mitteleuropa, not of a Greater-Germany and it is this historical legitimism of the post-1918 Austrian state that von Trapp as aristocratic/conservative element of the Ständestaat locates his patriotism. Despite the international fame of the Trapp Family Singers, it is curious that in passively accepting and in capitalizing on The Sound of Music, Austria also accepts an officially disavowed regime (labeled in the film as “golden years”) and an elitist (aristocratic) representation of the nation.16 But a representation of Dollfuss/Schuschnigg Austria is incomplete without the inclusion of the regime’s Catholic social philosophy influenced by the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno and the clerico-corporate theories of Othmar Spann (1878-1950). It is the character of Maria as symbol of Catholicism that completes this sociopolitical allegory. Her joie de vivre and her religious beliefs nurture the children and bring substance to their lives. She helps the Captain channel his mourning for a “world that is slowly fading away” into an effective role model for his children and a progressive and pragmatic stance in dealing with the peril to his family.
The Maria/Captain allegory also exists on the class-conscious level. Enamored in the demimondaine Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), Captain von Trapp seeks to escape the loss of his true love (his wife, but also Old Austria) in a hedonistic, aristocratic circle. The Baroness is presented as a wealthy socialite who cares little for the von Trapp children, although her love of the Captain appears to be honest. Not unlike the hero’s discarded aristocratic love interest in such German Enlightenment works as Lessing’s Emilia Galotti (1772) and Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe (1784), her goal is social continuity rather than emotional gratification or self-realization. The Captain’s fascination with her is equally a social refuge — into the false security of class and into nostalgia. Their impossible union in this allegory would represent an unrealistic redux of an elitist and mythic past, something the Ständestaat had attempted to avoid by encouraging a volkisch mass culture to balance the cosmopolitan imperial heritage that made Austria a distinct entity from Germany. Von Trapp instead chooses a life with Maria, who grounds his past in a realistic present. The joining of Maria’s Alpine, rural, and folk persona with the Captain’s aristocratic, high-culture and suggested Viennese connection spans not only the geography of postimperial Austria, but the Ständestaat mission for Austria: sovereignty with an identity based in Habsburg heritage, Catholic social values, Viennese high-culture but also Alpine-aimed Volkskultur, evolution not revolution. Indeed, Goethe, and later Thomas Mann viewed the type of class union of the Georg-Maria misalliance as a progressive move toward a renewed esprit of the nation.17
The Sound of Music manages to represent most levels of the social structure, and does not shy from the bourgeois opportunism of Max Detweiler (Richard Haydn), the impresario, who is closely associated with the decadence of the Baroness and whose passive fatalism about Austria’s demise angers the patriotic Captain von Trapp. Most important is that the “enemy” in this film is not an outsider. The National Socialists are all Austrians, and are already visible in a conspiracy as the film begins. These characters, ranging from minor employees to the middle class — the telegram messenger Rolf Gruber (Daniel Truhitte), the butler Franz (Gil Stuart) and Herr Zeller, the future Nazi Gauleiter,18 signify the petit-bourgeois “pseudo-revolution” of Nazism. Zeller particularly attempts to voice the illusion of an autonomous Austria with a specific mission within the Reich that Austria’s Anschluss-Governor Artur Seyss-Inquart (1892-1946) held in attempting to create such anachronistic Austro-Hungarian sounding districts as the Reich Fortress of Belgrade and the Prinz Eugen Gau.19 Hitler immediately rejected such seeming excursions into Habsburg history. One imagines that Zeller’s absurd comment that “Nothing has changed in Austria. Austria is the same,” will meet with similar damnation from Berlin as did Seyss-Inquart’s naivete. The von Trapp children also figure into the ideological battle. Their lie about picking berries is punished by the Captain, as he would punish all those who join in the lie of Austria’s role in Germany; his rebuke of Zeller at his ball pits a notion of Austria as a land of culture, represented by the voices of innocent children “raised in song” against the “ugly German threats” of a militaristic and expansionist Reich. Interestingly, one of the major successes in Austrian film during the Schuschnigg era was Singende Jugend (Singing Youth, 1936), an Austrian/Dutch co-production directed by Max Neufeld. It that promoted just this sort of Catholic Austrian youth “raised in song” against the unspoken reality of the Nazi militarist threat. Featuring the Vienna Boys Choir on an adventure in the Tyrol, the film which begins as a neo-realistic Austrian social drama about an orphaned boy Toni (Martin Lojda) living in poverty with his street-musician friend (Hans Olden). Upon one day hearing the Vienna Boys Choir and dreams of joining them, and his friend who has become an ersatz-father, convinces the rector of the Vienna Boys Choir school (Ferdinand Maierhofer) and a nun, Sister Maria (Julia Janssen) to accept the boy. On a summer trip with the choirboys to the Tyrol, Toni risks his life to defend the innocent Sister Maria, (who has become his mother-figure) from suspicion of theft. He recovers from his injuries to find himself welcomed into his new life and home. The film is very much in tune with the Ständestaat ideology, suggesting the benefits of discipline, a specifically Austrian culture/tradition, and of course, Catholicism. Set against Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, the film also managed to display the public works of the regime — the newly constructed Grossglockner Highway. Singende Jugend, which may have influenced the later troubled-but-good orphan-boy genre in Hollywood films, such as Norman Taurog’s Boys Town (1938) and the former Austro-Hungarian Michael Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) was a bit like the nun and child-laden Sound of Music of its day, being a major success with audiences in France, England and even Czechoslovakia, where it was voted best foreign film of 1936. Its ideology and non-certified “Aryan” Austrian and exile German and cast and crew made it forbidden for import into Germany.20
Sites/Sights of Sovereignty
Wise’s Sound of Music hosts a battle of symbols to challenge any semiotician. Captain von Trapp is defined by a white Austrian decoration in the shape of a crusader’s cross or Kruckenkreuz around his neck, and displays the Austrian flag in his entry hall during the ball. The counterpoint is the Nazi flag that is hung against his knowledge outside his door after the Anschluss, which he tears down. Here are simple opposites of the Manichean struggle of light against dark, white against black. The Austrofascist Chancellor Dollfuss believed the Kruckenkreuz to be a Christian symbol that would show Austria to be a “better” Germany in contrast to the Third Reich, which found representation in the pagan symbol of the swastika.21 Symbolic white returns in von Trapp’s anthem, “Edelweiss,” in which the flower, “clean and white” represents the small, fairly impoverished republican Austria, which is now preferable (even for this nobleman and former imperial officer) to a provincial annexation to Nazi Germany. Writer Hans Weigel has said that the birth-date of postimperial Austrian identity occurred “five minutes before the disappearance of Austria, on the 12th of February 1938.”22 This is, of course, not completely true, given the Ständestaat‘s sense of national definition beyond the embattled First Republic and its heroic, if undemocratic and right-wing stance against Anschluss. Austrian photojournalist Lothar Rübelt is convinced that the regime’s ideological organization, the Fatherland Front, crystallized a patriotism that was the forerunner of Second Republic national consciousness.23 Certainly, many of those associated with the Ständestaat who fled in exile or remained in inner emigration helped found the Second Republic in 1955.
Von Trapp, who represents the imperial patriarchy, is shown at the head of the family table, the microcosm of the nation. Behind him towers a decorative obelisk, at once a phallic symbol of leadership and a tombstone. It is clear von Trapp’s monarchical or authoritarian leadership is related to a dead or dying Austria. From this table rushes his eldest daughter Liesl (Charmian Carr), for a secret rendezvous in the gazebo with Rolf. The couple’s class difference mirror that of von Trapp and Maria, in the typical Enlightenment constellation, and within the freedom of nature, away from the site of the patriarchal control, where von Trapp and Maria also eventually declare their love for each other. Liesl and Rolf are a sociopolitical mismatch that cannot be overcome. Rolf tells Liesl that “Your father is so Austrian …. Some people think we should be German.” Indeed, Rolf loses interest in Liesl after the Anschluss affords him a new uniform, male camaraderie and a gun. Von Trapp and Rolf reenact the father/son conflict common to German Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) and twentieth-century Expressionism, but in The Sound of Music, the “son’s” new order is only a false liberation from the Old Order, in the form of Nazism. In a message reminiscent of the works of Austrian Biedermeier dramatist Franz Grillparzer, progress is suspect, conservative lack of change, as represented in von Trapp, is associated with goodness and freedom. The definitive father/son struggle occurs in the catacombs of the church, where the von Trapp family hides from the storm troopers who intends to arrest the Captain for refusing his naval commission. Hiding behind the tombs, the family literally seeks shelter in, and is imperiled by the “past.” Rolf discovers the hiding place and is confronted by von Trapp, who, in fatherly tones nearly convinces the boy of his wrong ideals. The ease in which von Trapp substitutes himself for Nazism (and the unseen Führer), suggests a lost generation of men seeking patriarchal structure. The controversial former Austrian President, Kurt Waldheim recalls his own identification with an infant republic which in 1918 was “set adrift, its mighty parent dead,”24 and implicates Austrian attraction to the strong leader to battle the isolation and introversion of the First Republic. Von Trapp takes the gun from Rolf’s hands in a re-order of phallic authority and precipitates the boy’s panic and the subsequent response of the storm troopers.
The very sites of the film have strong geopolitical value: von Trapp’s Salzburg, unlike Baroness Schraeder’s Vienna, is untainted by politics, military, memories of war and revolution. Historically a bishopric, it is an ideal symbol of Catholic values and historical independence. Von Trapp’s identity is shifted after the Anschluss: the order regarding his naval commission comes from the center of the new Greater German Reich, Berlin, (Vienna having been degraded to a provincial capital) and it requests he report to Bremerhaven, a Protestant northern German port city that has little in common with Terra Austria. Similarly, on a microcosmic level, the action of the film prior to the Anschluss occurs in locations that support the Austrian ideology of the Ständestaat: the von Trapp manor house, Maria’s convent, and the cathedral. Exterior shots are in places of idyllic freedom — the mountains, and of Austrian history — around Salzburg and Mirabell Palace. Cinematographically, strong parallelism contrasts Catholic Austria and its fall to Nazism. Maria’s wedding march and the pealing of many joyous bells dissolve into the single, dull bell, announcing the Anschluss. This is immediately followed by a wide, aerial shot of the orderly columns of Nazi soldiers marching across a plaza. Maria’s white draped movement toward the altar is similarly shot from above, her long veil makes her resemble a butterfly. The soldiers, however, resemble ants. Indeed, Maria’s costumes reflect her emotional growth as the evolution from worm to cocoon to butterfly: she begins in black habit and presents herself to the Captain in an ugly earth-toned burlap skirt and jacket. This is followed by lighter but still dull-colored dirndl patterns and the blue chiffon dress of the party, which is briefly replaced by the habit in her attempt to seek refuge from her feelings for the Captain. She returns in a more elegant, strong blue-green dress, ultimately replaced by the butterfly of the wedding gown and the striking yellow suit she wears upon her return from her honeymoon. In this color, one of associated with Empress Maria Theresa, the Habsburg flag, and Schönbrunn Palace, Maria stands by her husband’s side in resistance to Nazism. He wears his typical Austrian country costume or Tracht, a patriotic uniform-like look favored by aristocrats. When the butler, Franz, is briefly seen peering from an upper floor window at Zeller’s confrontation with the escaping family, he is garbed in von Trapp’s or a similar Tracht, signifying him as the new lord of the manor. It is a clear reference to the lawless and violent National Socialist expropriation of the property of Jews, Fatherland Front leaders and members, monarchists, socialists, and other anti-Nazis in Austria beginning in March 1938. But it is no longer the symbolic house of Austria that Franz and his like have acquired and want represent. Their “ownership” has degraded it to the Ostmark (Eastern March) or later the Alpen- und Donaugau (Alpine and Danube Gau), a province within the Reich, renamed once to wipe Austria off the map, the second time to eradicate any lingering reference to its Habsburg history.25
The space following the Anschluss is claustrophobic, dominated by tight and angled shots within the von Trapp house and by shadowy nighttime exteriors. The festival appearance is haunting for its ominous lack of attractive surroundings. The arches of the ancient outdoor stage and the silhouettes of guards recall the Roman coliseum, a pagan and colorless world now overriding the sensuous baroque Christianity of Salzburg. In their simple loden “travelling clothes,” the von Trapps have lost their facade of wealth, class, and even regional characteristics. They are now indistinguishable from any other family — as the everyman and woman of an Austria no longer on the map. Max Detweiler’s emcee duty and the Nazi uniforms that season the audience delivers us into the “show” (e.g. Nuremberg party rallies) of the New Order. Indeed, there is even a transfiguration of the archways, halls and yards of the convent in the following scenes of Nazi infiltration. They are dark, funereal, in mourning. Sunlight does not return until the family makes their way across the mountain (albeit the wrong one) to freedom — a mirroring of the opening shot of Maria’s joy. As the audience descended from the clouds to meet the postulant rejoicing in the purity of nature, we now rise again with her new family, in a Romantic transcendence of lowland corruption worthy of Romantic German authors such as Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) and Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)26 or even of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1945/54 film, Tiefland.27
Perhaps the film, like those in German and Austrian cinema of the past that have utilized the Enlightenment and Romantic period conventions, appeals to the global audience for these very stylistic reasons. The music is arguably among the best creations of American Broadway theater and of its redoubtable composers, Rogers and Hammerstein. The waltzes, ländlers, foxtrots and folk song imitations draw on Mozart, Schubert, Strauss and Lehar and the narrative accommodates an irresistible Hollywood formula for popularity — nuns, children, a love story and heroism couched in faith. Yet The Sound of Music is more than these cliché elements that compose its melodramatic form. There are lucid moments of sociopolitical and historical reflection not found in the dying musical film genre until Cabaret (1972) explored the final days of the German Weimar Republic almost a decade later.
As a representation of a national image, The Sound of Music gives the world an Austria that the Second Republic would not choose, but for its focus on the anti-Nazi Austrian. Still resented by Austrians, is the old rumor that the film was not an initial success in their country because it was about a family’s abandonment of their Austrian homeland, even if it was part of the Third Reich. Playing on this is Ruth A. Starkman’s recent suggestion that the film remains unseen in Austria (and Germany) today primarily because of its anti-Nazi ideology, and that the often cited rejection of Hollywood’s cultural imperialism is nothing more than a cover for neo-Nazi sentiments.28 Although the film does not cater to the 1943 Moscow Declaration’s concept of a purely victimized Austria29 (there are no German Nazi characters in the film), its anti-Nazi characters (ranging from the pragmatic Max Detweiler to the resistant Captain von Trapp) are representations that would help, not hinder Austrian identification in the wake of Kurt Waldheim’s wartime revelations and more recently, Jörg Haider’s Nazi-sympathetic utterances. Aside from Austrian Nazis, the film is also hardly a provocation in dealing with the Anschluss. It has, for example, no Jewish characters or even a single reference to the coming Holocaust. The problematic Austrian reception may have far more to do with what is depicted as the resistance — the representation of the Ständestaat, which German historian Gottfried-Karl Kindermann called “Hitler’s first defeat in Europe.”30 The assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss during the failed Nazi coup of 1934, as well as the doomed attempts of Chancellor von Schuschnigg to keep Hitler out, after having been abandoned by Mussolini with the Berlin-Rome Axis of 1937 and ignored by the Western powers, have not made these figures into national heroes. On the contrary, the authoritarian corporate state, which came into being on the back of a near civil war, economic instability and impoverishment, the rejection of Nazism, and the repression of the Left, is considered by many as the beginning of fascism in Austria, rather than the Anschluss. That those who stood with it against Hitlerism were deported to concentration camps and those who fled or survived, returned to help build a postwar Austria, is a subject that is perhaps still more difficult to broach than the Anschluss itself.
The Sound of Music is representative of conservative American cold war ideology of the 1960s more than of Austria in any particular period, according to Jacqueline Vansant,31 and recent academic examinations of the film in Austria discount it as the end of a long line of Hollywood Dirndl and Lederhosen operettas, as well as a projection of American, not Austrian values: idealized rural life, Protestant work ethic, family values (especially during the “generation gap” of the 1960s), the triumph of Christianity over atheism, as well as the “Cinderella” and the “successful immigrant” myths.32 Nevertheless, its use to promote Salzburg, or rather Salzburg’s indulgence of tourists who seek not the city but film fantasy, is nevertheless seen by Salzburg as an opportunity to introduce its reality to those searching for a cinematic landscape. Unclaimed but tolerated by Austria, The Sound of Music has put somewhat of a stronger albeit still limited and anachronistic face on the non-image of Austrians in American popular culture. Through its popularity, the imperial Austrian fantasies of Hollywood have been supplanted, replaced by a bittersweet nostalgia Austria generates even in its current self-representation to the world, and not without reason or right. Despite the American ideological angles, the social influences of the film’s production decade, the kitschification of Austria and its culture, the film nevertheless generates its central allegory from the real identities and histories of Maria Augusta Kutschera and Georg von Trapp. As a response to those who would claim only Hollywood production reductionism and/or Austrian reception revisionism, one can say: this couple is Austria too, one Austria of many.
- Austrian author Robert Musil (1880-1947) referred to a fictionalized Austria-Hungary as “Kakanien” in his novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities, 1930), and it has since become synonymous with an idealized image of Habsburgian Central Europe. The name was based on the abbreviation “K.u.K.” for Kaiserlich und Königlich, or Imperial and Royal, referring to institutions of the dual Habsburg monarchy (Empire of Austria and Kingdom of Hungary) until 1918. [↩]
- The still mysterious suicide/murder of heir to the Austro-Hungarian thrones, Archduke Rudolf and his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera took place at the imperial family’s hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 and has been the subject of many books and international film treatment. [↩]
- A significant pool of Austrian and Austro-Hungarian talent made up “Golden Age” Hollywood. Three waves of immigration were responsible: silent filmmakers who arrived following the First World War, those who left Vienna and/or Berlin for career growth during the 1920s and 30s, and those who fled the Anschluss in 1938. An excellent record of Austrians in the American film industry, including those who arrived from the postwar era to the present, can be found in Rudolf Ulrich, Österreicher in Hollywood (Wien: Edition S, 1993). [↩]
- Shaffer and Forman may have been inspired by Pushkin’s drama and Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Mozart and Salieri, but the stage play and subsequent film lifted much and without credit from two previous Austrian Mozart biopics, the 1942 Wen die Götter lieben (Whom the Gods Love), and the 1955 remake, Mozart, both directed by Karl Hartl. See Robert von Dassanowsky, “Wien-Film, Karl Hartl and Mozart: Aspects of the Failure of Nazi Ideological Gleichschaltung in Austrian Cinema,” Modern Austrian Literature 32/4 (1999), 177-88. [↩]
- . The Sound of Music, dir. Robert Wise, perf. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Charmian Carr, and Daniel Truhitte. Twentieth Century-Fox/Argyle Enterprises, 1965. [↩]
- Prior to its actual production, The Sound of Music had been an unpopular property in Hollywood. Paramount had originally bought the rights to the 1956 West German film, Die Trapp Familie as a vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, but abandoned development. After the success of the stage musical, Robert Wise, who had so successfully brought West Side Story (1961) to the screen, was asked to direct the film by Twentieth Century Fox, but he was occupied with The Sand Pebbles (1966) and remained unconvinced of the possibilities. After both Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly had turned down the opportunity, German-American director William Wyler agreed to direct the film if the script would incorporate substantial changes. He eventually dropped out of the project in pre-production. With The Sand Pebbles production on hold, Wise agreed to direct The Sound of Music. For interesting background notes on the film and its talents see: The German-Hollywood Connection: The Sound of Music at: http://www.german-way.com/cinema/som_main.html [↩]
- Maria von Trapp was born Maria Augusta Kutschera (1905-1987). [↩]
- Johannes von Moltke examines the two earlier German films on the von Trapp family, particularly their U.S. adventures in “Trapped in America: The Americanization of the Trapp Familie, or ‘Papas Kino’ Revisited” in German Studies Review, 19/5 (1996), 455-78, and in a revised German-language version, “Heimatklänge: Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika, in Montage, 7/1 (1998), 95-122. [↩]
- For a history of the Austrian Heimatfilm see: Gertraud Steiner, Die Heimat-Macher: Kino in Österreich 1946-1966 (Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1987). [↩]
- Eric Rentschler offers an incisive examination of the genre vis-à-vis Weimar Germany’s artistic and cultural ideologies in his article, “Mountains and Modernity: Relocating the Bergfilm,” New German Critique 51 (1990). [↩]
- See Robert von Dassanowsky, “A Mountain of a Ship: Locating the Bergfilm in James Cameron’s Titanic, Cinema Journal 40/4 Summer (2001), 18-35. [↩]
- See Linda Schulte-Sasse, Entertaining the Third Reich: Illusions of Wholeness in Nazi Cinema (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). [↩]
- Ständestaat = the Austrian corporate state (1934-38) modeled in part after Mussolini’s fascist Italy. [↩]
- Austrian examinations of the relationship between the film and the city can be found in Ulrike Kammerhofer-Aggermann and Alexander G. Keul, Eds., ‘The Sound of Music‘ zwischen Mythos und Marketing. (Salzburg: Salzburger Beiträge zur Volkskunde, 2000). [↩]
- Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Die Standarte (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1955). 204. Translation by Robert von Dassanowsky. See also Robert von Dassanowsky, Phantom Empires: The Novels of Alexander Lernet-Holenia and the Question of Postimperial Austrian Identity (Riverside: Ariadne, 1996), 20-56. [↩]
- Titles of nobility have been forbidden by constitutional law since 1919. However, this has never managed to remove the historical nobility from social consciousness. The names of important historical nobility are so well known or so associated with everything from major historical sites to street names, that the removal of a title or the noble particle “von” (of) makes little difference. Only lesser and thus lesser-known historical nobility lost its immediate recognition status with the removal of title or “von. The imperial nostalgia and later monarchist leanings of the Ständestaat helped relax this issue especially since its final Chancellor was Kurt von Schuschnigg. The anti-nobility law was not an issue during the Third Reich, but the Second Republic reinstated it. Titles of nobility and the “von” are never used officially in Austria today, except in rare cases, when it can also be considered an artistic name (e.g. the conductor Herbert von Karajan), but social and media use is more prevalent than in the past. Since 1918, Germany has considered titles and the “von” to be part of the surname — a solution that has brought its own problems. [↩]
- See Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-96) and drama, Die natürliche Tochter (1803), and Thomas Mann’s Königliche Hoheit (1909). [↩]
- The Gau was a medieval district. The term was adapted by the Reich as an appropriately Germanic and non-republican concept for its provinces. The Gauleiter was the governor of the area. [↩]
- Freidrich Heer, Der Kampf um die Österreichische Identität (Wien: Böhlaus Nachf. 1981), 423. [↩]
- In addition to the product of the major studios and production companies, there was a “secondary” Austrian film industry after Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany in 1933 known as the Emigrantenfilm (immigrant film). This consisted of independent productions (often co-produced with Hungarian, Czechoslovak or Dutch studios) featuring exile German talent and not exportable to Germany, due to the restrictions the Nazi regime placed on subject matter of Austrian films and the “racial quality” of its cast and crew. Although Germany attempt to ruin the Austrian film industry if it did not follow “Aryanization” standards as a preparation for Anschluss (Germany was Austria’s greatest export audience and most of the primary studios subsequently made the required concessions) the Emigrantenfilm nevertheless proved successful as export throughout Europe. It is recognized today for having created many classics of the era featuring such stars as Franziska Gaal, Hans Jaray, S.K. (Szöke) Szakall, Hans Bressart, Rosy Barsony and Otto Wallburg. See: Armin Loacker and Martin Prucha, Unerwünschtes Kino: Der deutschsprachige Emigrantenfilm 1934-1937 (Wien: Filmarchiv Austria, 2000). [↩]
- Irmgard Bärnthaler, Die Vaterländische Front: Geschichte und Organisation (Wien: Europa, 1971), 28. [↩]
- Alan Best, “The Austrian Tradition: Continuity and Change,” Modern Austrian Writing: Literature and Society after 1945, ed. Alan Best and Hans Wolfschütz (London: Wolff, 1980), 25. Translation by Robert von Dassanowsky. [↩]
- Lothar Rübelt, Österreich zwischen den Kriegen. Zeitdokumente eines Photopioniers der20er und 30er Jahre (Wien: Institut für Zeitgeschichte, 1979). [↩]
- See Russell A. Berman, Modern Culture and Critical Theory: Art, Politics and the Legacy of the Frankfurt School (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 232. [↩]
- Ostmark still recalled Österreich, the German name for Austria. Hitler wanted to remove any suggestion of the once independent country and its imperial multicultural, polyglot history. [↩]
- Novalis’s 1802 novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen and Joseph von Eichendorff’s late-Romantic novel of 1826, Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts, are particularly representative of the mountain/valley and nature-mystic ideals of German Romanticism. [↩]
- See Robert von Dassanowsky, “Wherever you may run, you cannot escape him”: Leni Riefenstahl’s Self-Reflection and Romantic Transcendence of Nazism in Tiefland,” Camera Obscura 35 (1995), 107-29. [↩]
- Ruth A. Starkman, “American Imperialism or Local Protectionism? The Sound of Music Fails in Germany and Austria.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 20/1, 2000, 63-78. [↩]
- . The 1943 Moscow Declaration took the following position on Austria: “The governments of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America are agreed that Austria the first free country to fall a victim to Hitlerite aggression, shall be liberated from German domination. They regard the annexation imposed on Austria by Germany on March 15, 1938, as null and void. They consider themselves as in no way bound by any charges effected in Austria since that date. They declare that they wish to see re-established a free and independent Austria and thereby to open the way for the Austrian people themselves, as well as those neighboring States which will be faced with similar problems, to find that political and economic security which is the only basis for lasting peace. Austria is reminded, however that she has a responsibility, which she cannot evade, for participation in the war at the side of Hitlerite Germany, and that in the final settlement account will inevitably be taken of her own contribution to her liberation.” A Decade of American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1941-49 Prepared at the Request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by the Staff of the Committee and the Department of State. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950). The first part of the declaration supported the Second Republic’s official avoidance in dealing with the Nazi past. The scandal surrounding Kurt Waldheim is generally regarded as the rupture of this policy. The former United Nations Secretary General served as President of Austria from 1986-1992 despite the revelations that he had been an officer in a German army unit that committed atrocities in Yugoslavia. An investigation cleared him of any complicity, but the political fallout and critical reaction to Austria abroad promoted national discourse on Austria’s past as both a victim and perpetrator of Nazism. [↩]
- See Gottfried-Karl Kindermann, Hitler’s Defeat in Austria, Trans. Sonia Brough and David Taylor (London: Hurst, 1988). [↩]
- Jacqueline Vansant, “Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music: The ‘Denazification’ of Austria in American Cinema.” From World War to Waldheim: Politics and Culture in Austria and the United States. Ed. David Good & Ruth Wodak (New York: Berghahn, 1999), 165-86. [↩]
- See Reinhold Wagnleitner, “The Sound of Forgetting meets the United States of Amnesia in ‘The Sound of Music‘ zwischen Mythos und Marketing and in From World War to Waldheim: Culture and Politics in Austria and the United States (New York: Berghahn, 1999): 1-16. [↩]