Cast & Crew
In the East Prussia of Danzig before the war, three-year-old Oskar Matzerath decides to stop growing. Succeeding, the boy finds playing his favorite toy, a tin drum, useful for tuning out things that annoy him, like his mother's dallying with their Polish boarder, the Nazi rallies his father attends, or even the advent of war itself.
Karl Heinz Tittelbach
Alexander Von Richthofen
Jean Claude Mauliere
Alexander Von Richthofen
Barbara Von Weitershausen
Best Foreign Language Film
The Tin Drum
His name is Oskar Matzerath and he wills himself to stop growing at the age of three as a reaction to the lunacy and duplicity of the adult world as he experiences it in Danzig in the run-up to WW II and the war years. After carefully staging a fall down a flight of basement steps to account for his growth stoppage, he bangs out his anger on a series of tin drums bought from a Jewish toyshop proprietor. To this percussive trademark, he adds a vocal gift - the ability to shatter glass with his voice. His rage and confusion begin when he notices his mother and her cousin playing footsie under the family dinner table. Later, when he sees them meet at a cheap hotel, he shouts out half the windowpanes in the city. And yet as he ages, he becomes a creature of Rabelaisian appetites. That his real father is his mother's Polish cousin, and not her stolid German grocer husband, doesn't turn him away from sex. He's happy to partake of it however he can, and as the story progresses, several women are pleased to accommodate him.
He's barely able to contain the metaphorical faceting Grass gives him -- arrested development on the outside, steely moral compass on the inside, seething with anger and, later, hormones as he negotiates the nightmare boiling up from underneath the placid surface of his petty bourgeois world. It's a story that cries out to be filmed in black and white, in German Expressionist style. Today, The Tin Drum would be viewed as fertile graphic novel material. Schlondorff filmed it in color, though, inevitably softening it. But he did two things that make the film work. Faced with the choice of hiring a midget or a boy to play Oskar, he went the latter route, and struck a chunk of casting gold when he chose then 11-year-old David Bennent to play Oskar. With his pale blue eyes soaking up the world around him and deflecting it at the same time, he's shielded by a sort of immunity conferred upon him by being developmentally disabled. Part of the adult world's seeming obliviousness to the boy stems from their sense that he's "different.'' They endure his idiosyncrasies because they think he's mentally impaired.
We, of course, know he's not, partly because he narrates part of the time, allowing us entry into his thoughts and perceptions, of which the adults in his world are not aware. Their collective passivity, of course, is fertile soil for the rise of Nazism. Close to home, they also have a lot on their minds. The other reason The Tin Drum doesn't bend and break under the weight of its allegorical dimension is that it's delivered to us as a string of domestic embroilments, the tone of which is set in a lusty prologue depicting the genesis of Oskar's mother when a fleeing fugitive is hidden under the skirts of a generous peasant woman in a potato field. Thus is born the family proclivity for sexual waywardness. And yet the family and extended family in whose midst Oskar lives treats him lovingly and even indulgently. Their neighborhood is presented as a village within the larger city. Grass, a native of Danzig whose father ran a grocery shop there, and who happens to have been born in 1927, the year Oskar's growth came to a halt, obviously helped contribute a certain authenticity of place as one of the credited screenwriters, while also fine-tuning the dialogue. Far from trivializing the events on the larger stage, the soap opera anchors them, especially after they begin spinning picaresquely in larger and larger orbits as the lethal Nazi madness escalates.
The undeclared ménage a trois involving Oskar's mother (a voluptuous Angela Winkler), her stolid husband (Mario Adorf) and her rashly romantic lover (Daniel Olbrychski) is sustained by the grocer's complaisance, whether from generosity, indifference, or stupidity, we're never quite sure. (A longer director's cut, restoring some 20 minutes of excised material, includes a scene in which the grocer's enthusiasm for Nazism begins to cool when he's visited by two Party officials and rejects the suggestion that Oskar be euthanized.) After Oskar unravels a staged demonstration for a Nazi bigwig by beating his drum under the bleachers and throwing the orchestra off, derailing it into Strauss's Blue Danube waltz, he hits the road, swept up by a troupe of dwarfs and midgets assigned to entertain German troops throughout Europe. At one point, they picnic on the concrete roof a Normandy pillbox. And then death starts closing in alongside the Nazi downfall.
The Tin Drum is filled with flavorful and often surprisingly touching performances by characters taken beyond caricature or political cartoon. Fritz Hakl is potent as the sad, worldly midget impresario, whose circus bandstand décor included gold Stars of David on maroon velvet; Mariella Oliveri, as his wife, is full of heart, too. Charles Aznavour makes his presence felt in every scene as the wistful toyshop owner with a crush on Oskar's mother that is doomed to go unrequited. And what must Heinz Bennent, as the neighborhood greengrocer whose fondness for boys is given freer play under the Nazis than it ever had under his cover as a Boy Scout leader, have thought and felt at the sight of his own young actor/son witnessing his character's death at the end? (Obviously young Daniel Bennent was unscarred - he went on to a long and prestigious career on the German stage.)
One of the ways in which the film is able to seem unintimidated by the reputation of its source (Grass won a Nobel Prize in Literature; the film got a Best Foreign-Language Oscar®) stems from Schlondorff's decision to pitch it closer to Rabelais than Goethe as it visits the strife that rained down on Danzig (currently Gdansk, Poland), unluckily situated between Germany and Poland. The lustiness extends to Oskar sleeping with the provincial girl hired to help out after Oskar's mother dies. When the new girl later succumbs to the new widower Matzerath, and they marry, Oskar is invigorated by the thought that he, and not Matzerath, is the new child's biological father. Adorf's performance as Mazerath travels an ambitious arc -he's cement-headed at the beginning, but humane for all his crudity of outlook and manner, and by the end he's improbably affecting, avoiding lapses into stereotype. But what one most strongly takes away from The Tin Drum is the unyielding ferocity of Bennent's Oskar. Indeed, it's the motor of his survival. But then the film is, in its perverse way, a celebration of survival, right down to its penultimate grace note - refugees boarding boxcars headed toward the West and, as they see it, hope - reversing the still-haunting impact of all those civilians-stuffed-into-boxcars images of the Holocaust.
Producer: Eberhard Junkersdorf
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Screenplay: Jean-Claude Carriére, Volker Schlondorff, Franz Seitz, Gunter Grass
Cinematography: Igor Luther
Art Direction: Nicos Perakis
Music: Maurice Jarre
Film Editing: Suzanne Baron
Cast: Mario Adorf (Alfred Matzerath), Angela Winkler (Agnes Matzerath), David Bennent (Oskar Matzerath), Katharina Thalbach (Maria Matzerath), Daniel Olbrychski (Jan Bronski), Tina Engel (Anna Kaojaiczek).
by Jay Carr
The Tin Drum
The Tin Drum on DVD
Hugely popular and critically respected upon its release, The Tin Drum earned a stack of awards including the 1979 Academy Award® for Best Foreign Film. Still riding on the success of his earlier The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, director Volker Schlondorff became one of the top directors in the new canon of German directors along with Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog, et al. However, his unorthodox career path may account for The Tin Drum's subsequent decline in status for a decade or so as a neglected art house curiosity, sought after by die hard videophiles but rarely screened on cable after a flurry of initial appearances on HBO.
Of course, all that changed in 1997 when a fundamentalist group in Oklahoma City spearheaded an effort through the police to prosecute the film as child pornography, with copies illegally seized from video stores shelves and oblivious rental customers persecuted for their viewing choices. (Considering the film's subject matter, the irony couldn't be thicker.) As with the earlier search-and-seizure scandal involving Pasolini's Salo in Cincinnati (another Criterion title, incidentally), the media stir brought the film back to public attention and caused a huge spike in video sales and rentals. As a result, The Tin Drum is guaranteed as a major film for discussion both for its free speech significance and, thankfully, its status as an excellent film in its own right.
While Schlondorff typically avoids any overt moralizing or smacked-on-the-head symbolism, this particular film is a bit different as it explores realistic territory with a startling surrealist edge, paving the way for popular magical realist writers of today. The film's influence can be traced all the way to films as disparate as Amelie and Forrest Gump, though neither can touch this adaptation of Günter Grass' delirious novel (originally titled Die blechtrommel). Special kudos to young Bennet, who conveys Oskar's transition (or lack thereof) from young child to post-adolescence with startling clarity; his disturbing, child-like quality anchors the film's more outre flights of fancy and keeps the potentially objectionable sexual content from descending into the tasteless.
Previously available from Image (licensed through Kino), The Tin Drum has been upgraded to Criterion status with an array of special features. The improved 16:9 transfer looks terrific, and the subtitles have also been tweaked to improve and clarify the translation. The remastered Dolby Digital audio sounds clearer, but don't expect an aural powerhouse; in a nice touch, Maurice Jarre's restrained, lyrical score is isolated on its own audio track. Schlondorff appears in a number of bonus features, including an informative if sometimes dry audio commentary, a handful of oddball deleted scenes with running Schlondorff commentary, and a featurette entitled "Volker Schlondorff Remembers" in which his reminiscences are accompanied by a healthy selection of behind-the-scenes ephemera including production photos and storyboards. Other video supplements are focused more on the film's 1979 promotion, including footage with Schlondorff and Bennett during and following the Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Palme d'Or), chats with co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and the always great actor Mario Adorf, and snippets of Schlondorff and Grass (who also co-wrote the screenplay) during shooting. Other extras include an unused ending penned for the original script, a 1987 German audio recording of Grass reading excerpts from the source novel, a gallery of production sketches and artwork, the theatrical trailer, and of course, a wonderful Gary D. Rhodes documentary, Banned in Oklahoma, in which various participants (including a Kino exec) cover the scandal in admirable depth. Perhaps we're now overdue for some overzealous monitors of social behavior to go after Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart so we can get a nice special edition of that title as well.
For more information about The Tin Drum, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Tin Drum, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
The Tin Drum on DVD
Ich bin unkeusch gewesen, in Gedanken, Worten und Werken.- Agnes Matzerath
Allein oder mit anderen?- Reverend Wiehnke
Zu zweit.- Agnes Matzerath
Wo und wann?- Reverend Wiehnke
Immer am Donnerstag, in der Tischlergasse.- Agnes Matzerath
In June 1997, at the urging of a Christian fundamentalist group and after viewing only a few isolated scenes, an Oklahoma County District Court judge declared that this film contained child pornography (as defined by Oklahoma's obscenity laws) and as such was illegal. Without obtaining the necessary search warrants or court orders, police in Oklahoma City confiscated all copies of the film from libraries and rental outlets. They intimidated video store managers into supplying them with the addresses of those currently renting the movie, went to those homes, and confiscated those tapes as well. The local District Attorney declared that anyone possessing a copy of the movie would be arrested. Within weeks the D.A. was forced to back down on this statement, and by December most of the seized videos had been returned. By October of 1998, over the course of rulings in several related lawsuits, the U.S. federal courts found that the confiscation of the tapes had been unconstitutional, and ruled that the movie did not violate Oklahoma's state laws. The U.S. Court of Appeals closed the final case in May 2001, and the movie is once again available for rental in Oklahoma County.
Also banned in parts of Canada for its depiction of underage sexuality.
Acclaimed Polish-British actress Beata Pozniak made her movie debut as an extra when scenes were shot right outside her home.
Released in United States January 2000
Released in United States June 24, 1990
Released in United States March 1980
Released in United States May 2010
Re-released in United States August 2, 1996
Re-released in United States September 26, 1996
Shown at Cannes Film Festival (Restored & Re-edited "Director's Cut"/Cannes Classics) May 12-23, 2010.
Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California June 24, 1990.
Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "Kino International Retrospective" January 6-27, 2000.
Re-edited and presented by the director Volker Schlondorff in a "Director's cut", remastered by Kinowelt in 2010.
Formerly distributed in the USA by United Artists.
Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) March 4-21, 1980.)
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: The Best of Filmex) April 2-23, 1981.)
Winner of the Palm d'Or at 1979 Cannes Film Festival.
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States January 2000 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "Kino International Retrospective" January 6-27, 2000.)
Released in United States May 2010 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival (Restored & Re-edited "Director's Cut"/Cannes Classics) May 12-23, 2010.)
Released in United States June 24, 1990 (Shown at Pacific Film Archive (A Producer's Vision: Anatole Dauman) in Berkeley, California June 24, 1990.)
Re-released in United States August 2, 1996 (Film Forum; New York City)
Re-released in United States September 26, 1996 (Nuart; Los Angeles)