(long entry, I know it's not good blogging etiquette, and I understand if you want to stay in your naive little world where Maria Von Trapp is a heroine). Yes, I'm following the trend of naming posts after lines from songs in The Sound of Music
Lately, I can't watch The Sound of Music without feeling uncomfortable, and annoyed. I can't think of a scene that I think works--bad acting, bad writing, whatever. Much of this, of course, is because it is a musical, and few things (among them perhaps wicked special effects) kill good acting like knowing that whatever dialogue is currently happening is going to develop into a song in the next minute or two. The same principle applies in real life as well.
But I want to focus on the heart of what offends me: Maria as educator. As a foil against this, I have become more and more impressed with Dewey Finn (Jack Black's character) in School of Rock. So I want to contrast these two models of educators. Many of my thoughts could be viewed as simply a preference for a contemporary model educator (one who guides learners as they construct and produce vs. one who instructs learners what to do) only Dewey Finn is unique even for model teachers in recent movies (see for example Coach Carter, Dead Poet's Society, and Lean on Me)
The scene that tips it for me is after the goat-herd puppet show. Maria has been the lead voice, and has been shouting directions to the Von Trapp kids, which they follow, and they put on a good show. After it is complete, the kids have left and the Captain, Max, and the Baroness remain and the Captain (Georg) says something like "That was great work Fne. Maria!" And Maria responds, "They're your children!" Gabby pointed out that this scene can be disturbing, but she completely rejects my further claims. So I thank her for opening this up, but she shouldn't be lumped in to the rapidly growing group of people that watch Sound of Music and School of Rock this way--but I hope and pray she will some day.
What is disturbing about this scene? The most basic is the false self-effacing (What?! You're congratulating ME?! I had hardly anything to do with this!! They were YOUR children captain, I simply supported their enthusiastic creativity!) The other contributing factors are just what was the back-drop for this false self-effacing: For starters, she had the lead role, no? It seems clear, or is at least suggested that she choreographed--produced--the production. The focus moments for the performers were Maria coughing from the foam-a-float, and Maria directing Gretel (?) to move the castle-mote person, and the new backdrop. Maria is the heart and engine of the effort. In an important and disturbing sense, the children are acting as Maria's puppets. I see the same features in her teaching "Doe, a deer" and music and singing in general--Maria is the center, do as she says and you will be beautiful. Even in the scene after they return from their outing, and the children are singing (without Maria) to the Baroness, Georg comes in and Maria waits by the side and motions to give the flower to the Baroness. This motion to deliver the flower says to me that Maria is still running the show. The children are doing as she has instructed them.
Some disclaimers: Of course what the children do under her teaching is impressive. They seem happier, they are obviously better singers, and they are in general more relaxed (but they didn't really have a direction to go except more relaxed, right?)
Now contrast Dewey Finn: The moment for me in the movie is when Dewey is playing the song Zach wrote with the kids ("...Maybe we were making straight As"), then steps back and watches the kids play. Even the words to the song seem to cut against Maria and her mis-guided teaching approach: "don't take much to memorize your lies...feel like I've been hypnotized". At this moment, Dewey is struck, and surprised, and he is transformed. The show is no longer about Dewey winning battle of the bands, it is about putting on a rockin' show. Dewey still plays a unique and important role, he is still a teacher--he knows more about rock-n-roll, and what goes into a rockin' show than the students, but it is now their production as much as it is his. After this epiphany, he asks if he can come in with a guitar solo. On the surface, this may appear that he is taking the center back from the students, but it is not like that at all. This request is the biggest compliment he can give--he shows that he takes these students seriously, he has been inspired by the music that they wrote, he asks if he can do the solo because he feels one coming on from their music. Contrast this with Maria directing to deliver the flower to the Baroness.
After the show, the principal congratulates Dewey, and he doesn't give some lame "They're your students!" He responds with something like: "Yeah, that was a rockin' show!" Not taking nor avoiding (un)due credit.
A few brief contrasts:
On initial thoughts and intents:
Maria: "I have confidence in me!" she is going to influence for good these kids.
Dewey: "Could I maybe get out a little early? I got some stuff I gotta do." He is not seeking to influence or be influenced. He is open and naive to the situation.
On setting the agenda:
Maria: After the kids have played some pranks (one could think to have fun) she guilts them into crying. They can have fun, and a lot of it, she shows them, if they do it on her terms: On her bed, in her clothes, with her songs. I get the sense that whichever students were there, Maria would give the same instruction.
Dewey: After he hears them rehearsing for their classical orchestra, he starts talking about making a rock band. This is all self-serving for Dewey, but at least it is in response to the students. They bring something to the table, they are each accomplished musicians. Had Dewey not heard them, he would not have recruited them for the band--he would have stuck with the fliers on light-posts
On original teaching approach:
Maria: Let's start at the very beginning...She teaches, and the students follow her instruction.
Dewey: At first, Dewey does the same sort of thing as Maria (do this! Now raise your goblet of rock!), he teaches and the students follow his instruction.
On their eventual teaching approach:
Maria: She is a static teacher. She does not change. She is the source of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. The students and family transform to accomodate her, but she sings in the hills to begin, and sings in the hills at the end.
Dewey: He is a dynamic teacher. He is transformed by the students. The students are also transformed and these transformations take place at the same time. They come to understand each other better.
Overall, School of Rock is much more hard-core and rockin'.