Oskar Matzerath,the precocious protagonist who refuses to grow up,in Volker Schlondorff's 1979 film,Tin Drum,is an unreliable narrator.This is Gunther Grass's own childhood,but he grew:that's how he ended up wanting to partake in the war.The film captures much of the novel's picaresque energy and surrealism.It opens with Oskar's grandmother sitting in a muddy field heating potatoes.She is impregnated with Oskar's mother by Joseph,the man on the run from the police,hiding under her skirt.Oskar always speaks off screen,often in the 3rd person, sometimes in the 1st,you don't really know where this voice is coming from.The reason-he is pretending to be a 3 year old.You see a child, but with the brain of a grown-up.His shrieking angry little voice is the opposite of what you expect.
David Bennent gives an eerie performance.Like a doe-eyed child,but with a maturity and aloof quality.When he's not shattering glass,his behaviour is more restrained than that of the adults around him,including his 2 fatherfigures: his mother's grocer husband Alfred,who becomes an enthusiastic Nazi,and Oskar's heroic uncle,Jan, who takes part in the defence of the Polish post office in Danzig in 1939-one of the 1st battles of WWII.Oskar's 2 father figures show different aspects of Grass's own character.The ambivalence to the Nazis are like the passages in Grass's memoir,Peeling the Onion(2006),in which he seeks belatedly to justify his wartime behaviour.In The Tin Drum,Grass was lambasted for writing in too brazen and open a way about the Nazi era.We now know Grass's admission he had been a member as a teenager of the Waffen SS.Was he the nation's bad conscience or was he expiating his own pettiness?Driven by guilt to write The Tin Drum to exorcise the demons?
Schlondorff said Nazism was a consequence of the failure of the Weimar Republic.The large middle class were excluded from any participation in its affairs.Oskar is a representative.He has this incredible urge for power.He feels enormous,but he's a dwarf.So he's the symbol of his class but he would like to be the one in command,but there's the Fuhrer.His scream is because he'd like to be no.1.This child-like behaviour is acceptable from a child, but not from grown-ups:then it becomes infantile,diminishing.Oskar resents the display.He thinks he's in the true world.In the bandstand scene he's not resisting the Nazis but power of any kind.Objects take on a big significance. The universe of Oskar is a universe of toys.The whole universe should look like a toy;his drum the no.1 toy.
Food is important.It comes to an extreme when his mum kills herself.Eels coming from the horse's head like after-birth. She eats fish,gets sick,eats more fish because of her guilt.Fish is the symbol of her Christianity.The sexual scenes are central to the kind of world Oskar is born into.How his mother was born.We see Oskar in the womb, planning his entry into the fallen world.His mother's adultery is something he's aware of when she leaves him in the toyshop.He climbs to the roof and screams shattering all the windows of the building opposite.Frustration makes Oskar beat his drum or scream.The new director's cut has over 20 minutes of scenes the director was obliged to cut in 1979.The running time is at 163 minutes in the new cut,Schlondorff is clarifying the '79 cut,adding new layers.
Casting a twelve-year-old boy (David Bennent) as Oskar,the director fashioned "world history experienced from below," from the perspective of a small rebel armed with a drum and graced with a voice that breaks glass. A twisted variation on the German Bildungsroman, Oskar's education between the fronts of German and Polish history becomes an exercise in alienation and deformation. The youth refuses to accommodate himself to the status quo and compels himself to stop growing at the age of three. His fulsome drumming beats against the tenor of the times and his shrill scream poses a public menace. The film imbues the boy's negativity with a subversive power; his acts of refusal both issue from and militate against the experience of history.Worth seeing for the extra scenes which add
new light to this old material and new archive material.