Salzburg: The Sound of Music and Silence

A traveler discovers the difference between reality and movie magic while traveling in Salzburg, Austria.

The fountain can be found in Residenzplaz Square.
A fountain in Residenzplaz Square, a site captured in “I Have Confidence.” Photo by Ruth Li

Film Locations in The Sound of Music

In my search for the unifying narrative that I had experienced vicariously through my childhood and young adulthood, I instead discovered fragmentation both spatial and spiritual. The various scene locations we sought during our scavenger hunt were scattered geographically throughout the city: the sights in Mirabell Gardens during the “Do-Re-Mi” montage, the Residenzplaz Square fountain from “I Have Confidence,” the front (Frohnburg) and back (Leopoldskron) of the von Trapp villa.

Movie magic also distorts and magnifies sizes and proportions: things like the Mona Lisa, Pegasus Fountain and the steps leading down to Mirabell Gardens are so small in real life! Encountering the familiar scenes as they exist in reality is strange and otherworldly: storied edifices seem isolated from their (fictional music video) context and reassigned to an alien (to us) place.

More interesting, however, is the story of the real family villa, which now exists as a hotel. The real villa, as shown in the recent 50th anniversary ABC special with Diane Sawyer, is a small and humble abode when compared with the grand staircase and the spacious frescoed drawing rooms seen in the movie. The von Trapps became poor during the depression in the 1930s, and the family sang to earn extra money. Captain von Trapp even considered performing for Hitler, though, as fabled, decided against it due to personal convictions. Yet knowing the separation between the romanticized and real, the filmmakers wished not to produce a documentary, but to envision a tale that in its idealism would become immortalized, lasting through time and space.

In watching the movie now, after visiting the actual locations, there is a part of me that is a constant commentator drawing myself out of the illusion. Yet there will always be a part of me that is moved to believe the story, and longs to relive the myth apart from history. The reality and fantasy exist simultaneously within my mind: the timeless memories of the film from years past suspend my disbelief.

A question arises: does retreating into the comforts of familiar understandings – viewing the characters and the histories behind them as I always have, simplistically and idealistically – erase the eerie encounters with reality? In privileging art over life, innocence over experience, I risk settling into an illusory contentment rather than navigating a more complex conception of the world.

And yet the film moves audiences in part because it is real, in the sense that it conjures genuine feeling whether contextualized within or decontextualized from actual historical experience. The filmmakers were able to weave a coherent, compelling narrative, both literally and figuratively, spatially across the city and temporally in interpreting the family’s histories.

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