“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. “
Robert von Dassanowsky: An Unclaimed Country. The Austrian Image in American Film and the Sociopolitics of The Sound of Music, in the new issue of the Bright Lights Film Journal.
After a survey of Austria-related American films before and after The Sound of Music (TSM), the author offers an analysis of the film in particular in relation to its “problematic Austrian reception”: the perhaps surprising fact that hardly anyone in Austria has seen the film, and that its popularity is at best limited to Salzburg where it is heavily exploited in the tourism industry.
My father had the soundtrack record at home, but it was never played. In my childhood remembrance, it ranks together with the “Tschitty Tschitty Bäng Bäng” soundtrack record – colourful, a young woman on the cover, a musical.
In 1993, I was confronted with the film’s impact on Salzburg as well as the international image of Austria for the first time. At an international film seminar organized as a “Salzburg Seminar”, I came to notice how participants continued to hum a strange tune and break out into hysterical laughter. This was “the hills are alive”, perhaps the best known songline from the film. They had to explain it to me.
Next I noticed that in Salzburg you can even take “The Sound of Music” sightseeing tours, complete with visits to the monastery and such. By the way, the “Salzburg Seminar” resides in the castle where the film was made.
A year later I moved to Hiroshima where my lovely cosmopolitan friends started making fun of me by humming “the hills are alive” whenever I entered the room. They soon gave up, however, noticing that the song didn’t really annoy me as much as they’d wanted it to. I simply didn’t care about the film that I still hadn’t seen in full (and still haven’t).
As for the analysis in the above article, it focuses on Austro-fashism as one of the backgrounds for the film and tries to analyse the film’s (non-)reception in Austria at least partly on the basis of Austrians’ approach to the “Ständestaat” regime after WW II.
Frankly, I can’t make much of conclusions like “Austrians didn’t want to see it because it had anti-Nazi elements in it [and all Austrians are closet Nazis]” , cited (but not approved of) in this article, or like “Austrians didn’t want to see it because it depicted the complex sociopolitical reality of the Ständestaat that Austrians simply wanted to ignore after WW II”. Im not sure this is what the author wants to convey, but for the sake of argument I’ll just pretend it is.
I have difficulties with both parts of this statement, (a) “Austrians didn’t want to see it” and (b) the reason. The reason is problematic as, I think, it’s too simplistic in attributing a clear representational relationship to a musical film and a certain form of sociopolitical reality. The claim that Austrians didn’t want to see it is on the other hand problematic because from the fact that few Austrians ever saw the film it is hard to conclude that Austrians on the whole didn’t want to.
I’d first of all like to know more about viewing opportunities – was the film ever theatrically released in Austrian cinemas? If not, how was the decision not to release it justified? Was it ever shown on TV? If not, how was this decision justified? If it was shown, in what context? How often? When (year, time of the year, time of the day)?
And so on.