Europe

Sound of Music success still surprises Salzburg 50 years on

Georg Steinitz in 2015
Image caption Georg Steinitz worked on The Sound of Music as a local assistant director, when he was in his mid-20s

The Sound of Music, one of the world's best-loved films, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But Salzburg resident Georg Steinitz, who worked on the set, says it's not always appreciated by the Austrians themselves.

Fifty years on, The Sound of Music still enchants its fans.

The film about Maria, the singing nun who captured the hearts of the Von Trapp family and escaped the Nazis, was premiered in March 1965.

It has immortalised Salzburg, a city in the Austrian Alps.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The film was released on 2 March 1965 and gained a fanatical following in the English-speaking world

Every year thousands of devoted fans flock to the city to visit the pavilion where Liesl sings I Am Sixteen, Going On Seventeen, or to make a pilgrimage to the Nonnberg Abbey, where the nuns wonder how to "solve a problem like Maria".

It was at Schloss Leopoldskron, the site of the Von Trapp garden in the film and now a hotel, that I met Georg Steinitz.

He worked on the film as a local assistant director, when he was in his mid-20s.

Image copyright Georg Steinitz
Image caption Georg Steinitz on the set of The Sound of Music in 1965

He says there was a remarkable atmosphere on set.

"It was very untypical for filming. That was due to the director Robert Wise, who was a true gentleman. He saw that there was a family atmosphere and of course the presence of children on set disciplined us."

Almost a tragedy

We walked through the garden to the lakeside, where I recognised the two statues of horses with fishtails, which feature in the movie.

"This is where we shot the rowing boat scene," Mr Steinitz said - and I thought back to the incident in which Julie Andrews and the children fall into the water, in front of a disapproving Christopher Plummer, in the role of Baron von Trapp.

Image copyright Georg Steinitz
Image caption Georg Steinitz took this picture on set, which he says had family atmosphere

Mr Steinitz said the scene almost ended in tragedy.

"As the boat tipped over, Julie Andrews was supposed to fall forward and catch little Gretl. But she fell backwards and Gretl fell forwards and went down under the water.

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Media captionSchloss Leopoldskron was the site of the Von Trapp garden in the film

"In the film you have an immediate cut," he said. "Lots of people jumped into the water to save her."

Part of Mr Steinitz's job was to direct the local, Austrian extras. But they didn't know the songs, which was a problem when it came to shooting the choir festival scene, where Baron von Trapp sings Edelweiss in front of Nazi officials.

Image copyright Georg Steinitz
Image caption Mr Steinitz says Julie Andrews, who played Maria, fell out of the wrong side of the boat in the rowing boat scene

"I was asked to instruct the crowd to join in singing Edelweiss," Mr Steinitz told me.

"And I told Robert Wise we first have to teach them the song. He was very surprised, saying: 'Isn't it an Austrian song? Isn't it even the national anthem?'

"And I had to tell him, no, it's Rodgers and Hammerstein."

Puzzled

Fifty years later, little has changed. Few Austrians know the songs or have seen the movie, although a stage version of the musical in German is now in repertory at the Salzburg theatre.

As I wandered through the Mirabell Gardens where Do Re Mi was filmed, I found plenty of foreign tourists who were delighted to burst into song.

But most of the Austrians I met were puzzled. "I don't understand why it's so popular," one man said.

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Media captionBethany Bell in the Mirabell Gardens asks whether Austria will ever love the film

His companion, Nikolaus, looked blank, as I reeled off the names of the songs: Edelweiss, Climb Every Mountain and The Lonely Goatherd.

But he brightened when I mentioned My Favourite Things.

"I know that song," he said. "It's by the jazz musician John Coltrane."

'Thought it would flop'

Mr Steinitz thinks the movie is a bit too American for Austrian tastes.

Image caption Georg Steinitz worked for the film's assistant director Ridgeway Callow

"People don't feel it has much to do with Austria, except for the landscape," he said.

"Especially here in Salzburg, people knew the Von Trapp family and they know there are gaps between the story told in the film and what they actually experienced. "

He admits to being surprised by the movie's worldwide success.

"We, the Austrian and German members of the crew, thought it would be a flop," he said. "We were very doubtful. But we were wrong.

"From a cinematographic standpoint it's technically perfect and it has everything that makes a good film - landscape, a nice family and a couple of bad Nazis."

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