Curmudgeonly classics N1

This is a new series which is perhaps mistimed so close to Christmas but let’s try it anyway.  The idea is to begin with three articles, two which happened to appear in the MSM and one on the net and these articles would have to be some of the best pieces of sustained and curmudgeonly ranting I’ve ever spilled my coffee over.

Now, it would be much appreciated, if you’ve seen a particularly good piece of sustained ranting yourself, if you would perhaps email it over to me to post, along with the appropriate attribution and thus we can make this into a mini-series.

Today’s is from 2007, by a Jack Marx and it’s about a subject he’d been brooding over for 42 years.  Ostensibly a film review, it quickly descended to the unforgivable, given a particular edge due to the writer having recently given up smoking.

Some of the comments which follow it are almost as good.

See what you think.

__________________________

While it’s true that there may be more important issues to be addressing today, it is also true that few days are any different, so if not today, I fear I may never be able to discuss that which troubles me greatly about what went on in The Sound of Music, a film that, 42 years ago this month, was enjoying its world premier season in cinemas across America.

Widely regarded as an “outstanding family film”, a “classic for all time” and, strangely, a “musical”, The Sound of Music is indeed a fine piece of entertainment for which director Robert Wise deserved his armful of Oscars.

However, it is also a dreadful indictment of the western values of the 20th century, a fact that has nothing at all to do with cinema, but rather the astonishing confederacy of altogether appalling personages that riddles the tale from start to finish, not a single one of whom possesses any virtues that might shine a light on the depths of their frailties.

The Sound of Music tells the story of Maria, a Roman Catholic nun in training who is commissioned to be the governess for the seven children of one Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, a widowed naval war hero who resides in the town of Salzburg, Austria. Ostensibly, it is the story of their love affair, the family’s many tribulations in both the personal and politically circumstantial spheres, and the power of music as a means for triumphing over adversity.

On a purely superficial level, the message and the moral is sound, the personal fates at which the “heroes” and “villains” ultimately arrive seemingly deserved, a “happy ending” not just for the principal characters, or even Austria (whom we know, of course, survived the looming disaster in Europe against which the story is set), but for the fortunate viewers, who emerge from the experience as the biggest winners of all.

Or…do they?

It is my belief that the talent and good looks of the cast, the toe-tapping melodies, the edge-of-seat drama of the plotline and the occasionally witty volleys of dialogue in the production have, for more than 40 years, successfully masked a very awful truth, that:

Every single character in The Sound of Music is a bastard.

It is perhaps appropriate that I deal with each individual exclusively.

Maria

From the very start, it is clear that Maria is a ceaseless irritation even for the presumably tolerant nuns of her own abbey, the opening dialogue consisting of the sisters’ complaints that Maria is tardy, recalcitrant and a “flibbertigibbet”.

But these are mere infractions of carelessness, and Maria’s core sins are much more serious than that. In short, she is an intolerant liar out for her own ends, her determination to force her views upon others verging on dogmatic, her calculating resolve to manoeuvre events to benefit her own desires hidden beneath a sickeningly pious exterior.

From her first meeting with Captain von Trapp, Maria, whose clear duty is to conduct herself and the children to the rules and wishes of the man who has employed her, presumes to take charge of the household, interrupting the Captain’s instructions regarding his preferred itinerary for the children with a deceptively saccharine: “When do they play?”, before belligerently refusing to adhere to the “whistle” system despite von Trapp’s entirely sensible explanation that “this is a large house, the grounds are extensive, and I will not have anyone shouting.”

Later, at dinner, Maria castigates the Captain for beginning his meal without thanking “the Lord”, rudely presuming her own deity and method of worshiping it upon the entire family. The first day has not even ended when Maria commits a breach of both the Captain’s trust and her duty as a governess that is simply unforgivable: noticing that his eldest daughter was absent after dinner, Georg enquires after an explanation, whereupon Maria assumes the role of Liesl’s defendant by insisting “she and I have been getting acquainted tonight.”

This is a downright lie, told by a woman entrusted with the safety of another’s children to the very man who has vested that trust in her, and had the Captain known the truth – that his daughter, far from safely chatting with her new governess, had been outside in the dark getting slippery with a Nazi – he’d have been forgiven for suspecting his new governess was not only a “flibbertigibbet”, but a fascist collaborator who’d sell his children to the Third Reich for a song (and not a very good one at that).

But Maria’s most serious transgressions can be found in the manner in which she deals with her feelings for the Captain himself, and the complete disrespect she shows towards the Baroness Elsa Schraeder. It is manifestly apparent – even to the children – that the Baroness and the Captain entertain a mutual romantic investment, and while it is yet to arrive at a formal engagement it is clearly an affair to be respected by the hired help, particularly a demi-nun whose charge is to look after the children. But this doesn’t stop Maria, her determination to flit by the Captain’s eye each evening causing the Baroness to lose her composure on more than one occasion, Maria neither oblivious to the tension nor unwilling to antagonise it.

In a telling exchange, after The Lonely Goatherd puppet display, the Baroness snidely makes plain her irritation with Maria’s hogging of the female limelight, and Maria gives as good as she gets:

Baroness: “My dear, is there anything you can’t do?”
Maria: “Well, I’m not sure I’ll make a good nun.”

Touche.

When the matter comes to a head on the night of the party at the von Trapp residence, the Baroness quite understandably attempting to manipulate her rival off the scene, Maria feigns ignorance:

Baroness: “The captain would hardly be a man if he didn’t notice you.”
Maria: “Baroness, I hope you’re joking…I’ve never done a thing to…”
Baroness: “You don’t have to, my dear. Nothing’s more irresistible to a man than a woman who’s in love with him.”
Maria: “In love with him?”

This is not consistent with the version of events Maria later gives to the Reverend Mother at the Abbey:

Mother Abbess: “Are you in love with him?”
Maria: “I don’t know! I don’t know. I…There were times we looked at each other, I could hardly breathe.”

Clearly, Maria was always aware of what was going on and was only too happy to allow her ‘relationship’ with Georg to quietly gestate under the Baroness’s nose, her covert tryst only thwarted when Elsa had the nerve to bring matters out into the open, and even then Maria wasn’t gracious enough to admit that her adversary was right on the money, playing coy to the end.

When she lasciviously returns to the household to “climb every mountain”, as it were, it is nothing less than a scarlet act of direct romantic combat in the face of the woman who has already placed her cards upon the table, and to whom von Trapp is now betrothed. Maria responds to this news by putting on a near see-through frock and wandering around the grounds at night, in plain view of the Captain’s balcony.

Not, in fact, a very Christian show of respect for the holy bounds of wedlock.

I’ve taken up too much time on this homewrecking bitch, so it’s time to move on to somebody who doesn’t have a Royal Doulton haircut.

Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp

In sharp contrast to the wily, conniving Maria, Georg’s principal character flaw is that he’s a dill. However, he is also arrogant, fickle, dripping in a rich air of self-satisfaction that seems oblivious to the sad mediocrity of his own wit and possessing an ego so clumsy and pompous as to place his entire family in grave danger for it.

These were slippery times in Austria, and those who wished to survive were well advised to play a shrewd game in the face of the fascists. Not Georg, who seems to believe the European war can be won during his childish exchanges with Herr Zeller, the Nazi rep in Salzburg who holds the van Trapp family’s fate in his hands. Such bold and ill-advised quips as Georg relentlessly throws in the face of the potential executioner of his children would be excusable if they were any good.

Herr Zeller: “Perhaps those who would warn you that the Anschluss is coming, and it is…would get further with you by setting their words to music.”
Georg: “If the Nazis take over Austria, I’m sure you will be the entire trumpet section.”
Herr Zeller: “You flatter me.”
Georg: “Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.”

With a coquettish smirk and a weak-as-milk riposte, von Trapp may have just assured little Gretl an apprenticeship in clothing-and-shoe gathering at the nearest “re-education” facility. But so long as he gets a high-five from Max for putting the fat little Nazi in his place everything’s OK with the Captain.

Again, at the climactic showdown with Rolf among the headstones in the Abbey, von Trapp appears to have prevailed in a battle of nerve with the Lugar-wielding but ultimately gutless Rolf. Having seized the gun from the young boy’s grip, and thus having averted certain capture, von Trapp may have been well satisfied with the outcome and fled with his family to safety. But wanker Georg couldn’t help himself but to deliver one last verbal humiliation to an already defeated little boy with a provocative: “You’ll never be one of them.” Thus challenged, Rolf blows his whistle, to the apparent surprise of the dimwit Captain, and the great escape is on all over again.

Not that Georg is above Rolf’s brand of flakiness himself, the Captain’s hardened principals withering at the drop of a hat. The constitutionally militarist father is busy firing Maria for tearing up his curtains, taking his children into town against his wishes, loudly accusing him of being a crap dad and generally making a top-shelf arsehole of herself when the mere sound of his children singing a song moves him, within the space of a verse, to abandon his entire martial outlook and beg like a ninny for Maria to stay. Those at the Salzburg Folk Festival who knew George well were probably less surprised than bored when his rendition of Edelweiss ended in a neurotic choke of tears.

Furthermore, Maria over the Baroness? What was he thinking?

Baroness Elsa Schrader

As I’ve already mentioned, she is perhaps the tragic figure in this story, but she’s not without her faults. That game in which she tries to engage the children, involving the bouncing of a ball and the calling out of a number, is a stinker that could only have been conceived in the dullest of minds, and her ideas for wedding gifts for Georg are unimaginative, to say the least. She also appears to have an ugly prejudice against Catholics, resorting to stinging jibes about nuns, whenever the moment calls for it.

She is also a lousy listener, as is evidenced when Georg tries to interrupt her list of potential gifts with the message that she’s about to be dropped:

Baroness: “At first I thought of a fountain pen, but you’ve already got one. Then I thought perhaps a villa in the south of France, but they are so difficult to gift-wrap. Oh, Georg, how do you feel about yachts? A long, sleek one for the Mediterranean, or a tiny one for your bathtub…?”
Georg: “Elsa.”
Baroness: “And where to go on our honeymoon? Now, that’s a real problem…”
Georg: “Elsa.”
Baroness: “A trip around the world would be lovely. And then I said to myself: ‘Oh, Elsa, there must be someplace better to go. But don’t worry, darling, I’ll…
Georg: “Elsa.”
Baroness: “Yes, Georg?”

Elsa can at least think herself extremely fortunate that she escaped from this exchange without Georg bursting her eardrums with that blasted whistle of his.

Rolf

Rolf is a Nazi and there’s nothing redeemable about that. Furthermore, blind Freddy could see that he’s gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but his denial of the truth is grossly unfair to Liesl, who’s so hot for it she probably wouldn’t notice if it were the guy from Little Britain who was spinning her round the rotunda. Witness this significant exchange during their early courtship, wherein Rolf is pretending to send Liesl a love letter by telegram:

Rolf: “Dear Liesl: I’d like to be able to tell you how I feel about you. Stop. Unfortunately, this wire is already too expensive. Sincerely, Rolf.”
Liesl: “Sincerely?”
Rolf: “Cordially.”
Liesl: “Cordially?”
Rolf: “Affectionately? Will there be any reply?”
Liesl: “Dear Rolf: Stop. Don’t stop!”

Clearly, Liesl’s gagging for it, but Rolf’s passion is anything but full steam ahead, his reluctance hidden behind petty financial concerns and a luke-warm determination to end the communique in only the most ‘gentlemanly’ fashion.

It is perhaps not so regrettable after all that Rolf chose not to escape over the alps with the von Trapps, for it would have been inevitable that the young Friedrich would have at some point attracted the former postman’s attentions, and it is doubtful the singing of My Favourite Things would have assuaged the bitterness that union would have spread through the previously happy von Trapp household.

Mother Abbess

No more pardonable for being typical of those in cloistered religious orders is the Reverend Mother’s conceited decision to instruct Maria in the ways of love. Furthermore, her judgment is in error: rather than encouraging Maria to return and scale the peaks of von Trapp, it would have been more prudent to lock her out of harm’s way for the time being.

It must also be said that The Reverend Mother might benefit from taking the odd lesson from Captain von Trapp when it comes to running a tight ship, for at times she seems completely out of control of her own Abbey. Not only is she seemingly incapable of knowing where Maria is at any tick of the clock, she also appears not to care too much. Maria has been returned to the Abbey from her post at the von Trapp household for some time before the Reverend Mother decides she’s been “wrong to leave her alone so long” and calls her in for a chat:

Mother Abbess: “You’ve been unhappy…Why did they send you back to us?”
Maria: “They didn’t send me back. I left.”

One would have thought the return of Maria would have resulted in an immediate investigation as to the reasons – at least, one would think, a phone call to the Captain – and yet Reverend Mother reacts with surprise to this revelation, having floundered around the Abbey for weeks without the slightest clue as to what the hell one of her servants might have been up to during her time outside.

The Reverent Mother also turns out to be an enthusiastic harbourer of enemies of the state. I also suspect it might later have been revealed she was a man all along.

Max

A garden-variety opportunist, who rarely misses a chance to calculate the dollars each twist of fortune will make him. Also thinks he’s a comedian, the fact that the friendless Baroness is the only one who laughs at his jokes testament to what a shitful comic he is, even considering his time and place.

The Children

There is so much wrong with the von Trapp children that I dare not discuss it, and I know perhaps you don’t want to hear it, but you’ve got to. Liesl’s not a child. She’s nearly a woman…Friedrich wants to be a man…Brigitta could perhaps tell us a lot about him – she notices everything…Kurt acts tough to hide the pain…Louisa, I’m not real sure about…and the little ones just want to be loved. But I don’t love them. I hate them.

Posted by Jack Marx
March 21, 2007

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Personally, I’ve always hated The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews in particular! Anything she’s in, I’ll give a wide berth. I loathed all the characters in that film and regretted paying to see it. Just horrible.

[Rob the original]

I think this person & the article stinks. The film was, is & will always be a classic !

[Ligia]

Jack,  are you still suffering withdrawal from nicotine?

[Cam]

This is payback, isn’t it?  Because your missus made you watch this with the children during your holiday!

[Danny]

Surprised your article doesn’t mention the best ever line in a movie, courtesy of mother superior to Maria: “Maria, what is it you can’t face?”

[Adrian]

It’s all the goatherd puppet’s fault – those glassy, staring eyes …

[Smartie]

Are you so lost for ideas that this the best piece you can come up with? I struggled to get through it, waiting for the “truth” to arise, to no avail.

[Georgia]

I don’t know the story that well, but how does the land- locked Austria end up with a navy or at least retired naval captains?

[Stuart]

Funny, I am similarly repulsed by the main characters in”Oklahoma”, who are real scumbags. Doesn’t say much for the rest of the townspeople who think the sun shines out of their smarmy arrogant backsides.

[Stan]

I take issue with your statement that “there may be more important issues to be addressing today”.

[James]

The only thing that disappointed me today was that the numbers of “the offended” were particularly low.

[Classic]

Particularly nauseating is the scene where the children willingly ride their bicycles to the local viallage while wearing dreadful outfits made from Maria’s bedroom curtains. Didn’t ONE of them say no, I won’t be seen in THAT?

[Bobby]

I was a little bit dissappointed you let the kids off so lightly – seemed like you ran out of steam after venting on Maria.

[Snoop Doug]

Were you bitten by a nun when you were a child?  Did a projector fall on you at an early age when you were watching this at home?  Are you really struggling for a topic, or has this been simmering in you scone for years, waiting for the pressure to build to a point when it would burst out, fully analysed, all of its own accord?

[Ubernerd]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIHOJ2dq_UU

2 comments for “Curmudgeonly classics N1

  1. dearieme
    December 16, 2010 at 22:03

    When I was a fresher, it was a point of honour not to let your girlfriend finagle you into taking her to see it. People got booed in the common room for less.

  2. December 17, 2010 at 07:58

    Think I’ll wait for Crimbo day and watch it…..again

Comments are closed.