They forced me to watch it. Never in a million years would I have watched it of my own accord. But I had no choice. My American friends were relentless. They plunged me into the sticky, yodeling happiness of The Sound of Music.
Contrary to popular belief, "Edelweiss" is not the Austrian national anthem. Virtually nobody has seen the movie in Austria, where this travesty is set. The reason: When the movie was released in Europe, famous Austrian expats in Hollywood—many of whom had fled the Nazis—were shocked by the exculpatory portrayal of their collaborating former compatriots. Famous European entertainers like Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Gabor, Billy Wilder, and Audrey Hepburn all objected to the movie, which prompted the studio to pull the film from European cinemas. It never became a hit in Europe; hence The Sound of Music is simply not a thing here. None of my twentysomething friends in Austria have seen it. My parents haven't seen it. My siblings haven't. Nobody I know at home has seen it.
It's not just the movie we haven't seen. We haven't seen the stage version of the musical either, which the editors of this publication have told me is being performed at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre this season. Don't get me wrong, we love our musicals. Vienna is one of Europe's capital cities of musicals. Some of our musicals even made it to Broadway: Dance of the Vampires, for example. Austrians love American musicals, and the shows are translated into German and performed in Vienna to big crowds. Hair, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the list is endless—but certainly doesn't include The Sound of Music.
When my friends in the United States made me watch the movie, they were doing it just to see my reaction. And a reaction they got indeed: As someone who grew up in the place where the movie is set—I've climbed those mountains—my horror was substantial. Never mind the traditional costumes (a better fit for Disneyland than the Alps), and never mind the completely distorted view of history. Never mind the nuns who sing and dance like there is no Vatican.
The real incomprehensible attack on common sense comes with the movie's blatant ignorance of geography, best shown in the "Do-Re-Mi" song. This very famous portion of the movie has Julie Andrews marching her flock of little Krauts through the city of Salzburg. Anyone who has ever visited the city must get dizzy from the illogical tour they take, appearing absolutely incoherently in one place just to magically run through another one, located far away, a few frames later.
And that's just the movie—and I realize that kind of geographical distortion is common in movies. People walk down a street in, say, New York or Chicago, turn a corner, and they're suddenly miles away. But since I grew up in a place where not many movies are made or set, witnessing this was a new and unpleasant experience for me.
But the deeper problem is the material itself. The story Rodgers and Hammerstein laid before American audiences is a very far-fetched interpretation of the real events that took place in the run-up to World War II. The historical goofs are plenty—just go on the IMDb page of the movie and enjoy. Sure, anyone who has any sense for entertainment knows you have to tweak a story to bring it to the stage or the big screen. But what the composers did to the Trapp story had an enormous impact on the cultural depiction of my people.
Firstly, the musical and the movie turned Americans into pathetic little fanboys who know all the songs by heart and even started dubbing their favorite lines in the movie. (Wanna hear my favorite line? It's when Maria tells the mother superior that she needs to stay in the abbey and the mother superior replies: "What is it, you cuntface?")
Secondly, much worse, The Sound of Music is virtually the only source of information Americans have about Austrian history, culture, and tradition. And thanks to NBC and its live broadcast honky-tonk in 2013, that misconception has been cemented into the brains of a whole new generation of audiences. That is problematic in multiple ways. Not only is it offensive to us that Americans expect every Austrian to run around in lederhosen while yodeling, The Sound of Music paints a picture of Austrians as the victims and even heroic opponents of the Nazi regime. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just take a look at the scene in the film showing the Anschluss (when Nazi Germany annexed Austria), and compare it with the archival footage of the actual fucking Anschluss. In The Sound of Music, the streets are deserted, with the Austrian people hiding in their homes, terrified. What really happened was Austrians filled the streets, cheering and waving Nazi flags, and set right in to abusing and terrorizing their Jewish countrymen. Most Americans haven't seen the archival footage, and this fiction—embedded in the American subconscious—aided Austria in presenting itself as the "first victim" of Nazism after the war.
The new production of the musical in Seattle is not going to change much about that. A little advice: If you see a small handful of Nazis on the stage, add a couple of hundred thousand more in your imagination. And bear in mind that the real victims of the Anschluss weren't picture-perfect Christian Austrian families but the Jews of Austria, the communists, and the gays.
But don't let that spoil all the fun.