Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Tin Drum

(Die Blechtrommel, West Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland, France, 1979)

How strange that in only a little more than twenty years, two of those four countries would cease to exist. It is adapted from a 1959 novel by Günter Grass, who won the Nobel Prize in 1999.

There are some things in this movie to like, but I’m afraid they were overwhelmed by the bad stuff. And I’m not talking about the extremely controversial scenes where Oscar, who was supposed to be sixteen but was played by an actor who was actually eleven, and who looked like he was six … Wait. I’d better backtrack.

Oscar claims to remember life in the womb, being born, looking around and knowing what people were saying. These opening scenes were imaginative, often funny. Nice visuals. But when he is three he decided to stop growing. To provide an excuse for this weirdness, he throws himself down a staircase so everyone can claim that’s why he stopped growing, but it was actually a decision he made. So far, so good. Then it starts to get hard to watch. The little shit finds out he can scream at such a volume that he can shatter glass. Not just a champagne flute, you understand, but a whole wall of plate glass, and more. And from then on whenever he is displeased about something, he screams. Reminded me a little of that classic Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” where little six-year-old Anthony has mental powers sufficient to do just about anything he wants. Cross him, and you might end up “wished” into the cornfield. Or worse. Naturally, everyone walked on eggs around him, and around Oscar. Very quickly, I wanted to kill him. Almost as annoying is his continual pounding on the tin drum of the title. Which I’m sure was a symbol for something, but who gives a shit?

There is much more of the story. Too much story, in fact. The film is almost three hours long. It is taking place in what was known as the Danzig Corridor, an enclave established after World War I, and a point of dispute between fucking Nazi Germany and Poland. I know very little about this part of history. The story goes right through World War II.

There is a wonderful scene where the fucking Nazis of Danzig are having a huge rally, and Oscar somehow disrupts it by banging on his drum. The band begins to sound funny, and then breaks into the “Blue Danube” waltz and all the people wearing swastika armbands start to dance together, their hatred forgotten. It is not explained how he did this, and nothing like it ever happens again, but it is magical. If only there were more moments like this.

The thing that got the film banned in parts of Canada and some other places involved the actor David Bennent, who was eleven at the time. He has a strange condition that retards his growth. He was less than four feet tall, and continued growing into his thirties. He is now 5’1”. The thing is, he was in some seriously sexy scenes with Katherina Thalbach, who was twenty-five but playing a character who was fifteen or so. In one scene he presses his face against her naked crotch, though we see it only from an angle that does not actually show oral sex. But there was no way he wasn’t in very intimate contact with her. There are also scenes where he is giving her oral sex under the covers, and also having intercourse. Those didn’t actually bother me much, but I can see how they would be offensive to many people. No, the reason I don’t like this film is that it was too long, too irritating, and too obscure. Too bad, because as I said, some parts are magical.