The first movie I ever saw was The Sound of Music. I was young – not more than seven years old, and our boarding school had obtained the movie from the Canadian Embassy to show to students.
From the first notes of “The Hills are Alive” I was enthralled; at “Do Re Mi” I was smitten; and at “Sixteen going on Seventeen” I was in love. The Sound of Music would forever be one of the sounds of my childhood.
While all of the Von Trapp children felt like friends, Liesl was the beloved darling of the film. Beautiful Liesl who gracefully jumped on and off the benches of a gazebo with her love, Rolf. Liesl – with a dress that twirled and whirled as she danced and sang.
Then there was Rolf — stupid, stupid Rolf who would betray young love and leave the embrace of one such as Liesl to join the Nazi youth. In doing so he betrayed all of us who loved Liesl. Liesl Von Trapp was a little girl’s idol.
Yesterday, Charmian Carr – the real Liesl – died of a rare form of dementia in a facility in California. I didn’t know her real name until yesterday. In a short radio segment followed by a news article, I learned that she never had much of an acting role beyond Liesl. She grew to accept that, writing a book called Forever Liesl and hosting Sound of Music singalongs. I also learned that during the filming of the famous dance scene in “Sixteen going on Seventeen” she slid through the glass window in the gazebo and sprained her ankle. Evidently she continued dancing and singing, and the scene shows none of the pain she must have felt.
Film is an amazing medium. We cling to stories and characters because they reflect something of who we want to be, something that we long for. Their characters first dominate the screen, larger than life, and some of them continue to affect our lives far beyond the screen.
While raising our family, we never shied away from showing our children films. There were times overseas where we would rent pirated videos of newly released films to indulge our passion. The films were often distorted and poor quality but our kids didn’t know any better, and we were not about to tell them. Moving on to the United States, we began to hold Oscar Parties on Oscar night, putting up a life-size Oscar made of cardboard and laying down a red plastic tablecloth, a cheap simulation of ‘the red carpet’. We would dress up according to the films of the year and memories of my husband dressed as Caesar from The Gladiator, my daughter Annie dressed as Virginia Woolf from The Hours, and one of my boys a young and handsome Zorro are captured in faded color photos.
Maybe it was a need to occasionally escape reality that led us to a love of films, but I like to think it was more than that. I imagine it was our love of stories and storytelling where themes from movie plots could challenge, humor, delight and inspire. Perhaps it was also our desire to live life in living color complete with our own characters and plot. For some time I tried to defend this part of us, and then realized that I didn’t have to. It was who we were and not something to be ashamed of. I have no doubt that each of my children have their own “Liesl” – a character that they will always remember with fond nostalgia.
So Charmian Carr has died, but she has forever left us with Liesl; a Liesl who will continue to enamour and inspire little girls and capture the imagination of teenage boys for generations to come.