Before The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965) there was Die Trapp-Familie (Liebeneier, 1956): a German feature film about the same musical family that is largely forgotten today. Maria Hofmann’s side-by-side video essay compares these two iterations of the same story, highlighting striking cultural, visual and compositional similarities (and some differences). That would have been fine and interesting in and of itself, but Hofmann adds another (auditive) layer that transforms this video into a much richer and more thought-provoking exercise.
Because before Die Trapp-Familie there were the actual historical Trapps and the actual historical Maria. Using soundbites from interviews with Maria von Trapp, Hofmann questions her portrayal in both movie versions. In addition, this video also features a variety of testimonials from Salzburgers who were not very taken with the way their heritage, history and hometown were represented by Hollywood. Some of their remarks are not really pertinent nor very interesting (that the villa in the movie is not the original Trapp one is the kind of objection best reserved for IMDb trivia and message boards). But other soundbites call into question the cultural representations and relevance of the fictionalized film versions.
Maria Hofmann explicitly (and playfully) references Kogonada’s seminal video essay What Is Neorealism?, riffing on its voice over narration and borrowing its musical bed. But you could argue this piece is more closely related to Guillermo Triguero’s piece on Fritz Lang, which features a similar tension between the visuals (taken from fiction films) and the off-screen narration (sourced from an actual interview with the German director). In this video essay too, the most revealing moments are those when the glossed-over film scenes are at odds with the testimonials from the historical figures the movies were based on, and when the fiction is challenged by the views of spectators and collaborators. That is what makes this video essay, published first by Spanish Journal of Audiovisual Essays Tecmerin, stand out from the standard side-by-side fare. (Oh, and a special mention must go to its closing image: a stunningly beautiful visual superimposition of two kisses).