Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum is one of the more memorable fantasies in the history of international cinema. Its unique blend of comedy and drama reflected through the eyes of one remarkable character over two decades of societal and personal trials and tribulations has few equals, and while its excessive length and sometimes meandering plot make it occasionally less than riveting, the overall effect of its storytelling, its often tragic character analyses, and its rather sour view of Polish society in the first half of the 20th century demand that it be seen and experienced at least once.
The Tin Drum (Blu-ray)
Directed by Volker Schlondorff
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 163 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 German
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Review Date: December 31, 2012
Distressed by the world he sees around him at age three, Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent) decides to stop growing in order to stay apart from the world he mistrusts and rather detests. As the years pass in Danzig, his mother Agnes (Angela Winkler), her husband Alfred (Mario Adorf), and his real father Jan (Daniel Olbrychski) engage in an unusual three-way relationship known to all but not discussed. Oskar witnesses the rise of Nazism as the Poles and the Germans battle openly. Alfred is drawn to the Reich while Jan resists with Agnes unhappily caught in the middle. World War II claims various family members and Oskar, unhappy when his first love Maria (Katharina Thalbach) marries his father, leaves home and joins a troupe of dwarves who entertain German troops. But the end of the war brings a depressed Oskar back home and still frustrated and unhappy with the world as it exists.
Guenter Grass’ satirical novel with its blatant jabs against politics and religion is somewhat muted in its vitriol in the screenplay by Jean-Claude Carriere, Volker Schloendorff, and Franz Seitz with some additional dialogue by Guenter Grass. The tin drum of the title, Oskar’s means of conveying his mixed emotions at the world around him be it anger, frustration, love, joy, or sadness, is an incredible symbol of man’s folly, and director Volker Schlondorff doesn’t miss many opportunities to use it to the maximum. An elaborate Nazi rally that is hilariously disrupted by Oskar’s drumming turning it into a riot of waltzing soldiers and citizens is perhaps the film’s most memorable sequence, but there are plenty more of them: the attack on the post office when Jan works beginning World War II, the troupe of the dwarf Bebra (Pritz Hakl) doing its act first in a circus and later in ballrooms and out in the open on seashore bunkers, and a family holiday dinner disrupted by Oskar’s willful tapping on his toy. Schlondorff does a masterful job mixing scenes of spectacle with more intimate scenes, and he doesn’t mind if those views of family life are sometimes repulsive (a sequence dealing with an eel dinner is stomach-churning) or upsetting (a sex scene disrupted by the jealous Oskar). Oskar in the womb prior to birth is one of the film’s earliest and most impressively rendered images. He also uses cinematic techniques expertly: applying old fashioned irises and wipes in the early scenes and undercranking the camera to speed up the action mimicking the early years of cinema at the turn of the century and later abandoning them as the film progresses.
The performances are all rather astounding. David Bennent at age twelve but looking about half that age must play far younger and far older than his years during the movie and make it convincing later that he's a man in the guise of a boy. He etches an incredible portrait of a boy growing into a man without outwardly showing it even if some of the more intimate scenes with two of the women he loves are somewhat cringe-worthy. Mario Adorf as the blustery Alfred who experiences both the highs and lows of the Nazi’s rise and fall never plays too broadly and is dramatically the best actor in the movie. Daniel Olbrychski as the sweeter, more tender Jan is equally memorable. Angela Winkler and Katharina Thalbach as the two women in Alfred’s life both fashion believable and interesting characters. As a Jewish toy store owner who supplies Oskar with new tin drums and who harbors a deep love for Agnes, Charles Azenavour is likewise memorable. So, too, is Berta Drews as the grandmother of the clan, a Mother Earth in quite the literal sense as well as the symbolic one.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is offered at 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. What a gorgeous, often breathtaking transfer this is! Sharpness is excellent throughout with generous amounts of detail to be seen in facial features, hair, and fabrics, and colors are so richly hued that the images are pure pleasure to watch. Flesh tones are especially natural and appealing. True, some vintage footage of Hitler and the war is of lesser quality, but that can’t be held against the quality of the transfer. Subtitles are printed in white and are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 31 chapters.
Though originally released in mono, the transfer here boasts a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix supervised by the director. Truth to tell, apart from a few passages of Maurice Jarre’s music score, most of the audio track is spread strongly across the front soundstage with very little seeping into the rears (the use of the fronts and rears is very prominent in the music played over the end credits), so purists won’t be bombarded with a soundtrack that’s startlingly different to what they’re accustomed to hearing for this movie. Dialogue is always channeled into the center speaker.
Director Volker Schlondorff speaks for 67 ½ minutes about every aspect of the filmmaking process in lieu of an audio commentary. He speaks of his early career and his displeasure with adaptations and his coming around to admiring them due to his work on The Tin Drum. He talks about fashioning the screenplay for the movie and working with Guenter Grass, finding David Bennent and casting the other major roles, shooting in Yugoslavia, discussing how certain scenes were filmed without the use of modern CGI, the editing process and the addition of music, and the reconstruction of his original full-length cut thirty years after the fact. It’s in 1080p.
Film scholar Timothy Corrigan offers a video critique of the movie and places it among other films of the New German Cinema of the 1970s. This runs 20 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
“The Platform” offers novel author Guenter Grass reading the part of his book dealing with Oskar’s disruption of a Nazi rally with the corresponding scene from the film playing on screen. This 1080p excerpt runs 8 ¾ minutes.
A series of brief interviews conducted mostly after the film’s introduction in Cannes but also during shooting are offered. In 1080i, they are:
- Actor Mario Adorf and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere talking about the movie in a 1979 panel interview program for French TV. It runs 4 ½ minutes.
- Actor David Bennent and director Volker Schlondorff talking about the film at Cannes in 1979 right before the announcement of the awards. It lasts 4 ¼ minutes.
- Director Volker Schlondorff and author Gunter Grass making brief comments while filming that last 3 ½ minutes.
- A 40-second comment from Schlondorff after The Tin Drum tied with Apocalypse Now for the top prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or.
The theatrical trailer runs 3 ½ minutes in 1080i.
The enclosed 17-page booklet contains some film stills, cast and crew lists, critic Geoffrey Macnab’s appreciation of the movie, and brief comments from original author Gunter Grass on the adaptation.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A one-of-a-kind, haunting cinematic event, The Tin Drum comes to Blu-ray in an exquisite high definition release with sterling picture and excellent sound and with a more than ample array of bonus features. Highly recommended!