The Tin Drum (1979)

“There once was a drummer. His name was Oskar. He lost his poor mama, who had eat to much fish. There was once a credulous people… who believed in Santa Claus. But Santa Claus was really… the gas man! There was once a toy merchant. His name was Sigismund Markus… and he sold tin drums lacquered red and white. There was once a drummer. His name was Oskar. There was once a toy merchant… whose name was Markus… and he took all the toys in the world away with him.”

‘The Tin Drum’, an adaptation of a novel by Günter Grass, directed by Volker Schlöndorff in 1979, is a German historical fantasy. David Bennent plays Oskar Matzerath, a boy born in the build up to the Second World War who, at the age of three is given a tin drum and decides to stop ageing. The film follows Oskar as he matures without physically getting older, told in a series of vignettes that chart his growing (and for the viewer – uncomfortable) sexuality, and around him the horrors and brutality of war. It’s an odd film. It looks amazing – Schlöndorff direction and the cinematography is Fellini-like in its employment of dream-like imagery. The onset of war and the events in the life of Oskar are presented almost nostalgically. The fantasy is also understated, Oskar has the power to smash glass with his voice and this gives him and entry into a strange world of travelling carnivals. This is an example of where the film becomes unsettling. You get the feeling that Schlöndorff is aiming for a tone close to Fellini’s ‘La Strada’, but instead the movie has hints of Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’. The most unsettling thing, however, comes with the burgeoning sexuality of the main character. The actor, Bennent, was eleven at the time, and the film presents him, as a three year old, seducing woman, and doing unusual things with sherbet. For all its art and undeniably unique approach to narrating a German perspective to the Second World War, these scenes jar the audience.

Would I recommend it? It’s not so much taboo-busting as icky and taboo-fetishizing. I’d probably watch a movie like ‘Harold and Maude’ or ‘Murmur of the Heart’ both of which deal with similar subject matters.


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