The Tin Drum, Blu-ray (1979/2013)

by | Feb 4, 2013 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

The Tin Drum, Blu-ray (1979/2013)

Director: Volker Schlondorff
Cast: David Bennent, Mario Adorf
Studio: Argos Films/ The Criterion Collection 234 [1/15/13]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: German DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0, PCM mono
Subtitles: English
Music: Maurice Jarre
Extras: New Schlondorff interview, New interview with film scholar Timothy Corrigan, Audio-only of author Gunter Grass reading an excerpt from his novel with musical accompaniment, French TV interview excerpts, Trailer, Illustrated booklet with essay by critic Michael Atkins and statements by Gunter Grass
Length: 163 minutes
Rating: *****

A completely amazing classic film, which is even better due to the about 20 minutes of additional footage which Schlondorff was originally forced by the U.S. studios to cut from his film. If you saw it before, the additional footage is difficult to identify, but it explains several things more clearly in the convoluted plot of this hard-hitting mix of surreal images, satire and sometimes shocking eroticism. Schlondorff says in one of the interviews that one of his favorite films is Fellini’s Amacord, and just as that film presented the Fascist takeover of Italy in a lighter, more satirical manner, he did the same with the Fascist takeover of Germany in The Tin Drum—though you can’t accuse him of being very light. (Then Mel Brooks let out all the stops with  The Producers.)

The film closely follows the Grass novel, and in fact Grass—who had turned down other options to film his novel—was involved in the making of it and even supplied some additional required dialogue. One of the differences as that while the book continues beyond the end of WWII, The Tin Drum ends with 1945. The filmmakers had a challenging time finding the actor to play the lead of Oskar in the film. Schlondorff had even considered using an adult actor and making him small with film tricks. But then they found the little Swiss boy who was the son of one of the actors in the film and had a somewhat similar strange deformity.

Oskar was born in Germany in 1924. At the age of three, after observing the life of the adults around him, he decided he would will himself not to grow up or get any bigger.  This he did by throwing himself down a flight of stairs. The effort was successful, and the absurdist fantasy continues with only Oskar’s intellect and private parts growing—all else staying at a three-year-old level.

The world around him becomes increasingly chaotic, starting with the menage-a-trois of his two fathers and the growing buildup of the National Socialist Party in Danzig, where the story is set. The ascendancy of the Germans over the Poles and Jews is shown. Most of the Nazis are depicted as misdirected grown-up scouts in brown shirts and shorts. The scene where Oskar plays a ¾ rhythm under the stands at a Nazi rally and gets the crowd to switch from a march to a waltz is superb satire. Oskar just pounds away on his little tin drum and acts unaffected by the horrors around him. He soon discovers that if anyone tries to take the drum away from him, he can scream at such a high pitch that it shatters glass in the vicinity.  He finally meets some other people he can relate to when his mother takes him to the circus, which includes an act by some midgets.

The Tin Drum is a powerful allegory on war, and the images are most striking. Many use an old hand-cranked camera which gives flickering images and blurriness towards the edges, which seems to fit some of the scenes. The youngster who plays Oskar is quite amazing; the film probably wouldn’t have worked with anyone else, and certainly not with a midget. The rest of the cast are also superb. The film was in the news in the ‘80s due to some overzealous censors in the U.S.; now the startle feature seems more prominent than anything considered obscene. The Criterion extras are all fascinating, though some repetition does ensue.

—John Sunier

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