Bishop Williamson's Letters
November 7, 1997
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
As the Christmas season comes round again, no doubt many Catholic households, especially but not only in the U.S.A., will be preparing to watch, on public television or on video-tape, The Sound of Music. This Hollywood film has repeatedly been the object of critical remarks in this letter. If readers have wondered why, let it now for the season be explained at length.
The problem with The Sound of Music is that it is not just the innocent entertainment that it seems to be, as will be shown. Nor is Hollywood alone to blame. For the 1965 film was the cinema version of the 1959 Broadway (New York) stage musical. Now Hollywood and Broadway, like all entertainers, are responsible for what they do to elevate or debase their public, but they cannot be primarily to praise or blame for the state in which that public comes to them.
Interestingly, in the years of grace immediately following World War II (it did teach some people some sense), the valiant Catholic magazine Integrity called in question the whole modern expectation of "entertainment", just as between the wars Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., preacher in London, England, had called in question the whole of modern city-life because of the pressure it exerts on married couples to use artificial means of birth control. Obviously few souls paid much attention to Integrity or to Fr. McNabb, which is why we are now in the situation where few Catholics can see any problem with The Sound of Music. Let us then be aware that the problem runs deep, but let us here concentrate on its immediate manifestation in this one film.
Its story is based on a real-life incident which happened in Catholic Austria just before World War II. The wife of an Austrian naval captain dies, leaving him with a number of children to look after. The captain appoints as governess for them a young unmarried woman who has just left the convent where she was trying her vocation. Fortune smiles as the captain and governess fall in love, but fortune frowns as the Nazis take over Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. To avoid serving the Third Reich, the captain manages to flee Austria with his new wife and children.
It would be interesting to read the original book by the real-life governess, Maria von Trapp, to see just how far Hollywood departed from reality in the film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. However, we need not know the original to see what Hollywood has done!
Firstly, Julie Andrews is nice (of course), but she is too high-spirited to be a nun (of course), for instance she dances over the Austrian mountain meadows, in springtime (of course), waving her arms around and singing (presumably to the grass) that "The hills are alive with the sound of music". The hills seem unmoved but they do look beautiful, as does Julie Andrews (of course. We know she would wear perfume and make-up to go jogging).
Fortunately the Mother Superior is also nice (of course, at least in 1965. Today she would be a child abuser), so she and the other nuns are very understanding and let Julie Andrews go, to try out being governess of a tyrannical widower's unruly children who have (of course) chased away several governesses before her. What shall she do? Have no fear! The Power of Positive Thinking (of course) - she sings a gutsy little number along the lines, "...I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain... besides which you see, I have confidence in me". Bravo.
Sure enough, once inside the door she gives a dazzling demonstration of the superiority of liberty and equality over stuffy old Austrian ways! Immediately undermining - in front of the children - the Captain's tyrannical discipline over them, she proceeds to win their hearts (of course) by a combination of being their friend, taking their side, making them sing and have fun, all this without a trace of motherliness and all the time looking as cute as a kitten. She even looks cute when she prays, in fact who would not pray when it makes you look so specially cute?
Of course the stern Captain is soon won over by his domain being turned into a gigantic play-pen, so he breaks out in that favourite Austrian number Edelweiss, whereupon they all burst into song because the family has been re-built on the liberty-equality model. By now Julie Andrews is looking goofy around the Captain (of course), so there is a ball, and they dance (of course), and dancing reveals more of her charms (of course), whereupon the Captain also looks goofy around her (of course).
But enter now the villains! Firstly a glamorous Baroness previously engaged to be married to the Captain, who schemes to get Julie Andrews out of the way, back to the Convent (but didn't you know, "The path of true love never did run smooth"?). Secondly, villain of villains, a - a - a NAZI! (Original sin? - never heard of it! Isn't all sin Nazi sin?)
Pan back to the Convent for a heart-warming feminine dialogue: Mother: "You're unhappy". J.A.: "I'm confused". Mother: "Are you in love?" J.A.: "Oh, I don't know." Mother: "Go back to him". Him is of course delighted when she returns, so there is a duet of swooning, spooning and crooning by - guess what! - moonlight! "But will the children approve of our marrying?" Of course! Shiny white wedding dress (of course), wedding bells all over the place and a lovely ceremony (of course), to be spoiled only by the brutal re-appearance of the nasty Nazi - the Captain must report for duty to the Third Reich!
The family tries to sneak away. The nasty Nazi spots them, so now they all break out into singing Edelweiss. The nasty Nazi is foiled when the family escape to the convent (where else?), but drama rolls as the nasty Nazis close in on the convent. (But didn't you know, "Life is not just a bed of roses"?) The Captain is heroic (of course), but the dastardly villains are only foiled for good when their car is incapacitated by the nuns turned into mechanics (of course), and the last shots show the "family" climbing a mountain path to get out of the Third Reich, amidst hills which are once more - go on, don't tell me you couldn't guess! -- "alive with the sound of music". How truly heart - warming.
Dear friends, please excuse this long excursion into the audio-visual scenery of an average modern Christmas, but no less maybe necessary to rub noses in the falsity of this soul-rotting slush. Clean family edification? Nothing of the kind!
As for cleanness, many films may be worse than the Sound of Music, but stop and think - are youth, physical attractiveness and being in love the essence of marriage? Can you imagine this Julie Andrews staying with the Captain if "the romance went out of their marriage"? Would she not divorce him and grab his children from him to be her toys? Such romance is not actually pornographic but it is virtually so, in other words all the elements of pornography are there, just waiting to break out. One remembers the media sensation when a few years later Julie Andrews appeared topless in another film. That was no sensation, just a natural development for one rolling canine female.
As for being a family film, by glorifying that romance which is essentially self-centred, The Sound of Music puts selfishness in the place of selflessness between husband and wife, and by putting friendliness and fun in the place of authority and rules, it invites disorder between parents and children. This is a new model family which in short order will be no family at all, its liberated members flying off in all different directions.
Finally as for edification, in The Sound of Music the Lord God is mere decoration. True, His Austrian mountains are beautiful (beautiful decoration), but His nuns are valued only for their sweetness towards the world and their understanding of its ways, while His ex-nun is wholly oriented towards the world.
Dear friends, any supposed Catholicism in The Sound of Music is a Hollywood fraud corresponding to the real-life fraud of that "Catholicism" of the 1950's and 1960's, all appearance and no substance, which was just waiting to break out into Vatican II and the Newchurch. Right here is the mentality of sweet compassion for homosexuals and of bitter grief for Princess Di, of sympathy for priests quitting the SSPX for the Novus Ordo. Everything is man-centered and meant to feel good, the apostasy of our times.
But, somebody may object, The Sound of Music is only entertainment. Reply, is the world in a mess, or not? Now, has the world got to where it is by people listening to sermons in church? They do less and less of that. Then what do they drink into their hearts and souls and minds? Is it not their "entertainment", The Sound of Music in season and countless films more or less like it out of season? Then if the world around us is corrupt, it sure fits these films being corrupt, whereas if someone can see no problem with The Sound of Music (1965), how can he see a problem with Vatican II (1962-1965)? The simultaneity in time is no coincidence.
Dear friends, "entertainment" requires serious attention. Then what is to be proposed in place of The Sound of Music? For family time, amongst live human beings, better in general live games, talk or reading than mechanical TV or VCR, even good video-tapes, let alone video-tapes as false as The Sound of Music. Make your children (and your wife!) a Christmas present of your personal time, attention and guidance. That is more valuable to them than anything that comes in glitzy store-bought wrappings!
The Seminary is nevertheless providing, as per the enclosed flyer, a wide variety of VCR tapes. Contradiction? Not quite. These tapes are instructional rather than entertaining, and well used they should make accessible a wealth of Catholic truth and beauty. However, note the new address at which to order either audio - or video-tapes. This is because, to get the material out, we have brought in professional help, only not resident in Winona. Note in particular the offer of a free 30-minute video-tape. Anything (honest) to get real Catholicism back into circulation!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Richard Williamson