A Curmudgeon’s Response to ‘A Complete Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Sound of Music’

Sister Mary Curmudgeon really hates this movie.

Sister Mary Curmudgeon really hates this movie.

In the last three days, at least three people have referred me  to Linda Holmes’ recent  A Complete Curmudgeon’s Guide to “The Sound of Music.”

I’m not sure whether they’re doing this because they think I’ll be able to relate, or because they’re trying to provoke me in some way, much like those so-called friends who describe to me in excruciating detail every real or imaginary encounter they have with aggressive birds.

Regardless of their intentions, it turns out that I do identify with this post, which anticipates NBC’s highly polarizing (or is that just me?), much-anticipated (or is that just me?) live staging of The Sound of Music with a tongue-in-cheek critique of the 1965 classic movie. It pretty much mirrors my (strong and swirling) feelings about this whole thing.

I love The Sound of Music rather like I love my parents: with both a pure, child-like heart, and a healthy sense of  ironic distance. Since I grew up on, with, and far too close to the movie, perhaps this ambivalence makes sense.

While I totally get the spirit of the Curmudgeon’s Complete Guide, I take issue with some of Holmes’ finer points, and would like to take this opportunity to address them. I’d also like to offer a few of my own curmudgeonly responses to the movie–and I encourage you to do the same!

One caveat: I do not have access to the movie right now, so I’m working from memory. I know the movie pretty well, but my brain is as prone to error as the next guy’s.

On the musical bits:

Out of “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do,” the only one Maria apparently can spell is ‘la’…

20100923-tows-sound-of-music-20-600x411I s’pose  I agree with Holmes that there’s plenty to complain about here, but perhaps we’d do best to focus our attention on the most egregious of these, “Far, a long, long way to run.” Faaaaa-r? Is this how they teach solfege in Boston?

You only have 17 favorite things*, and one of them is “doorbells”?

Teehee. At least it makes more sense than “dogbells” which is what I thought she was saying until I got a Broadway Big Note piano book in 6th grade. Doorbells are silly to be sure, but let’s bear in mind that Maria may have just rung her first doorbell that very day! She’s lived in the alps and in the abbey. I’ll make an allowance for novelty.

The “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show is all about coerced mountain marriages…

Yeah, this is a weird song, and I’ve always been a little freaked out by maman with the “gleaming gloat” (“mmHMM!”) and wondered about the propriety of the “men drinking beer with the foam afloat.”

It’s pretty convenient that the musicians at the fancy party know an orchestration of the song about the goats who get married.

OK, fine, but come on, every musical ever requires some suspension of disbelief about general knowledge of the songs and dances. SoM is actually unusual in that so many of the songs are explicitly presented as either folk songs that everyone knows, or songs that are being taught as part of the story.

Furthermore, the musical allusion here provides a transition between two disconnected scenes (though did we really need anything more than “It’ll be my first party, father!”? Probably not), and perhaps suggests parallels between them: to wit, this party is all an elaborate puppet show, a “coerced mountain marriage,” one might say, between Austria and Germany.

‘You look happy to meet me,’ sings a man to a plant.

He's not talking to the plant.

He’s not talking to the plant.

Yes. Yes. I lol’ed when I read this. But also, Liesl kneeling at her father’s feet, “meeting” him for the first time in years….oh, sniffle.

The lyrics that always caused me the most personal consternation were these: “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood, Perhaps I had a miserable youth…” sings Maria, alpine innocent and proto-nun, before the specter of Nazi annexation. I suspect that her perspectives on “wicked” and “miserable” may soon be drastically altered.

And finally, just a question really, how does Maria not break her wrist(s) while swinging that guitar and carpet bag around during “I Have Confidence”?

DanielTruhitteOn Rolf:

“Rolfe is presented as a romantic hero despite the fact that he is clearly intimidated by Liesl’s burgeoning sexuality…”

“let us be honest: Rolfe is a smug punk, unless you think being called a baby is romantic.”

Wait, wait. Rolf is presented as…a what? I don’t think so. I mean, Liesl sees him that way at first, but no one else, including the Von Trapp’s secret Nazi butler, does. And her coming to see through his bravado is a major subplot of the movie. Of course he’s intimidated by Liesl. That’s what makes the song funny. Of course he’s a smug punk.”Thinks he’s a lot ‘older and wiser’ than he really is” is the entire comedy and tragedy of Rolf. It all comes to a head in that final scene in the abbey. What makes Rolf blow his freaking whistle? His insecurity about being a man, about being “one of them.” So yeah…I think Holmes has Rolf pegged, but I don’t think that’s a curmudgeon’s response….that’s just the movie.

‘Heil Hitler’ might be the worst way I’ve ever seen a young man get out of being caught tapping on his girlfriend’s window.

Snort. Yeah.

On the Baroness:

More mature people often conclude [the best line in the movie] is instead, “Why didn’t you tell me to bring along my harmonica?

YES. Pretty much everything Holmes has to say about poor old Baroness Ilsa is right on target. For example:

The Baroness is hardly a monster for not enjoying a game in which children hurl a ball at her pelvis.

What a delightful game.

What a delightful game.

Truer words were never spoken.

“There’s isn’t going to be any Baroness.” That is cold. THERE WILL STILL BE A BARONESS.

So true. And she is probably the one who secured your passage to America by sleeping with a Nazi or something, so play nice.

(OK, no joke, as I am writing this, Cabaret is on TV, and someone just said “Auf wiedersehn, darling.” Coincidence? Or is that a thing people said in the ’30s?)

On Governessing and Parenting:

Winning children over by ignoring the fact that they tried to injure your behind with a pinecone is no way to build character.

Well,  but the children wanted Maria to get them in trouble, so they would get attention from their father. So even though not hours before she said rather arrogantly, “Whistles are for cats and dogs, not for children, and definitely not for me,” it turns out she is not above the classic dog-training technique of ignoring naughty, attention-getting behavior.

The problem isn’t really that Maria makes clothes out of curtains. It’s that she makes clothes out of ugly curtains. And Maria didn’t pick the curtains.

sound-of-music-curtainI have to admit that I don’t really understand Holmes’ objection here. If Maria didn’t pick the curtains, and clearly the VonTrapp household staff didn’t like them, since they were being replaced, who and how are we to blame anyone for choosing ugly curtains? If anyone is to blame, one suspects it must be the late Mrs. VonTrapp. Perhaps the home is being slowly made over to remove all traces of her, and the children have been either traumatized or comforted by wearing her curtains all summer.

If Gretl is really dozing off in the middle of performances, she probably needs to focus less on her singing career and more on going to bed early.

This has always bothered me as well. As a child who lay awake at night for hours wondering about stuff, I didn’t really believe that Gretl could actually just fall asleep like that. Surely it was all part of the act. Speaking of which:

Sending Liesl to bed at the same time as Gretl seems like bad practice.

I agree. She definitely should have been allowed to stay and taste her first champagne. Perhaps if the Captain allowed her more age-appropriate privileges she wouldn’t be sneaking off with Rolfe.

“Louisa’s middle-child thing is not going to be helped by sharing a verse with her sister.”

I don’t know, I think Louisa made her bed when she pretended to be Brigitta in her first scene. Even though they look and act nothing alike, she’s ensured that no one will ever be sure they’re getting the names quite straight, ever again, and to avoid embarrassment everyone will refer to them collectively from now on. Props, though, for pulling off “I flit, I float, I fleetly flee I fly!”

I have several quibbles of my own with the parenting in SoM:

Seriously, she doesn't ask for much. This is practically her only line, except when she's asking Maria stupid questions about whether they should be quiet when fleeing.

Seriously, she doesn’t ask for much. This is practically her only line, except for asking Maria stupid questions about whether they should be quiet when fleeing the country illegally.

First of all, we know Marta’s birthday is on Tuesday. But her father leaves for Vienna (not that we’re suprised) and her birthday is never mentioned again. Does she ever get her pink parasol?

Second, seriously, Maria? You have been married for five minutes, and you feel that you are now qualified to have a knowing, motherly sit-down with Liesl about men and their wicked ways? Liesl was using that greenhouse long before you were. And given Maria’s track record with impulsivity, who is she to suggest that Liesl “Wait a year or two”?



Third, when the Captain rips that kerchief off of Louisa’s head, why so rough? How does he not rip out all her hair? How many times do you think they had to rehearse that?

And finally, I’m hardly the first to point this out, but who goes on a multi-month honeymoon, leaving seven children in the care of a Nazi butler and an unscrupulous “uncle”, when there’s an Anschluss on the horizon?

On Max:

 It is possible that once upon a time, we lived in a world where a greedy but good-hearted opportunist might try to make big bucks by scouring Austria for roaming bands of folk singers, but at this point, it does seem rather quaint.

 It is rather odd, but given Max’s “just make sure it doesn’t happen to you” mentality, I wonder if he is dodging military involvement by taking up some government-funded cultural project, serving his countrymen up on a silver platter. Which makes the festival all the more deeply disturbing, and also explains the Captain’s extremely strenuous objections.

On Maria’s life plan and following your dream:

Maria needs a gap year, or she’s going to enter into a series of unsatisfying short careers.

Indeed, especially since she found her way to the abbey by wandering down the hill from where she presumably lived with Heidi and Grandpapa and hopped over a wall into the cloisters. Girl needs to have a little confidence.

When Mother Abbess tells Maria, “Climb ev’ry mountain,” she is setting a very unrealistic expectation of success, especially since they are in the Alps.

Bwahaha. Indeed. Although it is somewhat charming that in the end, finding her dream involves literally climbing over those very mountains. Even though, as we all know, if the real VonTrapps had done this, they would have found themselves right in Hitler’s lair.

…no one wishes to say entirely explicitly, “Celibacy is not for everyone. Just ask Liesl.”

Ahem. “Gone are your old ideas of life. The old ideas grow dim. Lo and behold you’re someone’s wife, and you belong to him.”

I mean, how explicit do you really think it’s going to get? Think of  “The Sadder but Wiser Girl,” “A Girl Who Can’t Say No” (“I mustn’t fall into the pit?” My god!). Even, “She said she didn’t want NO CLOTHES!” Maybe they don’t say so in polite company, but I think we all–Mother Superior included–know what “things beyond my ken” means.

Unlike Liesl and Mother Superior, though, Maria does seem a bit clueless. Like, hello, Christopher Plummer wants to make out with you. Stop singing!

No, seriously. Stop singing.

No, seriously. Stop singing.

So…..what about you? What does your inner curmudgeon say?


One thought on “A Curmudgeon’s Response to ‘A Complete Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Sound of Music’

  1. Pingback: December 6: My Favorite Things | Chameleon in Boots

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