The Tin Drum
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (1st March 2017).
The Film

“The Tin Drum” (“Die Blechtrommel”) (1979)

Oskar Matzerath (played by David Bennant) is a young boy growing up in Danzig - or should we rather say not growing up, as he decided on his third birthday that he would no longer grow and stay a 3-year-old boy. The one thing that Oskar treasures most in his life is the gift that he received on his third birthday from his mother - a tin drum. There was also an incredibly ability that Oskar discovers at the time and that was his ability to shatter glass with a high pitched scream. Whether it was lamp posts in the street, a teacher’s glasses, windows, or medical jars on shelves he would hit the precise tone to make glass shatter to pieces. While Oskar’s life is strange and fantastic, the events surrounding him were not.

The independent city of Danzig was located between Germany and Poland on the coast of the Baltic Sea. With a mixed population of Germans, Poles, and Kashubians, the seemingly peaceful city post WWI was seeing tension with the rise of Nazism and the invading Nazi forces throughout Europe.

Oskar’s mother Agnes (played by Angela Winkler) was leading a semi-promiscuous life. Before Oskar was born she had a relationship with Jan (played by Daniel Olbrychski) the postal worker and also with Alfred (played by Mario Adorf). Although she marries Alfred, there is speculation whether Oskar is the son of Jan or the son of Alfred, and even Oskar believes he is Jan’s son. Agnes at times takes romantic visits to Jan’s place even during her married years.

The story seen through Oskar's eyes is one of wonder and tragedy through friendship, love, betrayal, and war.

The original 3-part novel was written by Günter Grass who was born in Danzig in 1927, similarly paralleling the life of Oskar. Published in 1959, it relied on Oskar’s narration on his life during the time. There was criticism for the strongly political overtones, the sexual, and religious nature, but years later was reevaluated as a classic of modern German literature. German new wave director Volker Schlöndorff had a major success both nationally and internationally with the 1975 film “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum” and the 1976 film “Coup de Grâce”, and his next project was adapting “The Tin Drum” as a feature film. The story of “The Tin Drum” takes place over the course of more than 50 years, with Oskar narrating the events of his grandparents’ first encounter in 1899 all the way to postwar life in the early 1950s. Rather than adapting the full 3 novels into a single film, the screenplay would have everything from the 1899 encounter all the way to the events of WWII - and excising all the events of postwar. Even though by the end he is technically a teenager he is by appearance identical throughout the years with his physical presence staying the same as his 3 year old self. Like a “Peter Pan” story of not growing up, it is not in his mind but in an alternate reality where his parents and others comprehend the strange fact that he doesn’t grow because he stunted his own growth. The fantastical elements are like a cross between “Peter Pan”, “Amelie”, and “Dodes Kaden”, but taking place during Hitler’s rise to power. There are moments that will make audiences laugh hysterically. Others will gasp in horror due to the war violence. But some of the more controversial moments came from the sexuality.

As the main character of Oskar was played by the actor David Bennant who was a pre-teen at the time, there were scenes in which he sexually licks sugar off the fingers and later navel off of the 16-year old Maria character (played by Katharina Thalbach). There were also instances where it was implied that he had sexual relations with some of the characters including Maria in bed and this led to controversy for both the book and for the film. The film was banned in certain parts of the world including certain Canadian provinces and a high profile case in 1997 in the US state of Oklahoma, when a district court judge ruled that the film was child pornography and all tapes were seized. It wasn’t until 2004 the court’s decision was overturned and the film became available in Oklahoma again - the same year The Criterion Collection released a 2-disc DVD special edition and included a documentary about the banning in the state.

While the film takes place over the course of many years in the early twentieth century, the style of silent cinema played a major role in many of the scenes. Irises opening and closing for certain shots, hand cranked images, and a visual sense even though in color was a tribute to the silent era. Famed composer Maurice Jarre’s great score elevates the film as do the performances by the actors. It’s not only David Bennant’s unforgettable face but of the many supporting roles and minor roles that help bring the characters to full life. And make no mistake that “The Tin Drum” is not a film for children despite having a main character that is a child. The war violence is shocking and the sexual scenes can be uncomfortable.

Despite the controversy, the film was a massive success in its first run in 1979. It was a big success theatrically in West Germany, won the Cannes Palme d'Or in 1979, sharing honors with “Apocalypse Now”, won the Best Foreign Language Film of the year by the US National Board of Review, and won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s still the most well known of director Volker Schlöndorff’s filmography and one of the most memorable coming of age adaptations ever made.

Note this is a region 0 PAL DVD which can be played back on any DVD or Blu-ray player with PAL playback capability

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (anamorphic) in the PAL format. Colors look great with the reds from blood or the Nazi flags looking natural, darker scenes look great, and there are no major issues of damage to speak of. Film grain is kept while scratches and specs are almost non-existent. For a standard definition transfer, it comes from a very good master and the image transfer is strong on the dual layer disc. There was issue on the US Kino Video DVD that had a recreated English language credit sequence, but this Umbrella DVD thankfully uses the original German language credits.

The film presented is the original 1979 theatrical cut which runs 135:49 and not the director’s cut which runs 21 minutes longer.

Audio

German Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

Both the original mono stereo and the remixed 5.1 track are included on the release. The stereo track does sound its age with some fidelity issues, but Oskar’s screams and the beating of the drum comes in clear. The 5.1 mix spreads out the music and effects more, though not obtrusively. It is not a heavy 5.1 track and it is definitely not a surround track to show off the home theater. The dialogue is still almost entirely center based with the shrieking sounds coming more from the left and right channels for example. The packaging lists the 2.0 track as "mono" but it is in fact a stereo track.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (3:21)
The original German trailer is presented with narration by the Oskar character. Some of the shots such as the school scene use seemingly different takes from the theatrical film and some are framed a little differently with some cropping. There are a few dots and scratches and a bit of ghosting in the image.
in anamorphic 1.66:1, in German Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Bonus Trailers
A submenu for additional trailers includes the following:

- My Life as a Dog (3:13)
The original Swedish trailer.
in anamorphic 1.66:1, in Swedish Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

- Just a Gigolo (4:12)
This is not a trailer but extended clips from the film
in non-anamorphic 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

- Rome, Open City (3:58)
The original English title card with clips.
in non-anamorphic 1.33:1, in Italian/German Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

- The Thief (2:31)
The English trailer for the Russian film, with English narration.
in non-anamorphic 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

It’s a shame that there are no in-depth extras presented. In 2010 a new “Director’s Cut” was assembled and has been released on Blu-ray in other countries. Schlöndorff has recorded commentaries in both English and German for the film and there are various featurettes, documentaries, and interviews that have been conducted for various DVDs and Blu-rays worldwide.

Packaging

The rear package has a "region 4" symbol on the back but this is in fact a region 0 disc. Also, the rear cover states there are German 5.1 and German 2.0 mono tracks available, but the 2.0 track is a stereo mix separated with differing left and right channels, evident when music plays.

Overall

“The Tin Drum” is still one of the great fantasy/reality bending coming-of-age adaptations made and is an outstandingly original and unusual film even 40 years later. Umbrella Entertainment’s DVD gets good marks on the video and audio scores but sadly lacks substantial extras only offering the original trailer. The film still comes as highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: F Overall: C

 


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