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The Tin Drum – The Criterion Collection #234 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 26, 2012 by  



“The Tin Drum” is a brilliant film from filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. A black comedy so original and unique that over 30-years later, it still mesmerizing and highly entertaining.  And with this new 162-minute cut, the way that Schlöndorff had wanted the film to be, the additional footage makes the film even better than the original.  Volker Schlöndorff’s “The Tin Drum” is a masterpiece that deserves to be in the collection of the cineaste.  Highly recommended!

Image are courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Tin Drum

YEAR OF FILM: 1979

DURATION: 163 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:66:1 for first two films, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, German with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: January 13, 2013

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff

Written by Jean-Claude Carriere, Volker Schlöndorff, Franz Seitz

Based on the novel by Gunter Grass

Produced by Franz Seitz

Executive Producer: Eberhard Junkersdorf

Music by Maurice Jarr

Cinematography by Igor Luther

Edited by Suzanne Baron

Production Design by Piotr Dudzinski, Zeljko Senecic

Art Direction by Nicos Perakis

Set Decoration by Marijan Marcius, Edouard Pezzoli, Paul Weber

Costume Design by Inge Heer, Dagmar Niefind, Yoshio Yabara

Starring:

David Bennent as Oskar Matzerath

Mario Adorf as Alfred Matzerath

Angela Winkler as Agnes Matzerath

Katharina Thalbach as Maria Matzerath

Daniel Olbrychski as Jan Bronski

Tina Engel as Anna Koljaiczek

Berta Drews as Anna Koljaiczek

Tadeusz Kunikowski as Onkel Vinzenz

Andrea Ferreol as Lina Greff

Heinz Bennent as Greff

Oskar is born in Germany in 1924 with an advanced intellect. Repulsed by the hypocrisy of adults and the irresponsibility of society, he refuses to grow older after his third birthday. While the chaotic world around him careers toward the madness and folly of World War II, Oskar pounds incessantly on his beloved tin drum and perfects his uncannily piercing shrieks. The Tin Drum, which earned the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award for best foreign-language film, is Volker Schlöndorff’s visionary adaptation of Nobel laureate Günter Grass’s acclaimed novel, characterized by surreal imagery, arresting eroticism, and clear-eyed satire..

“Die Blechtrommel” (The Tin Drum), the masterpiece film of filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, best known for films such as “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum” (1975), “Death of a Salesman” (1985) and “The Legend of Rita” (2000).

A black comedy that would win the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  A film that is beloved by many and its original Criterion Collection 2004 DVD release is looked at as one of the better DVD release from the company at the time.

But “The Tin Trum” was also a film which Volker Schlöndorff felt was incomplete.  Having wanted to re-cut the film with its original footage, the original producers felt that the film was best the way it is, no need to make it longer as it was already 142 minutes long and it was already a masterpiece.  Why tamper with it?

It wasn’t until 2009 when Volker Schlöndorff received the original film negatives and with the original producers having passed away, their siblings who own the film gave the director the opportunity to create the film the way he intended.  So, a 163 minute version of the film featuring extra footage was completed.  Volker Schlöndorff has now completed the version of “The Tin Drum” that he had always wanted to be released for the public.

In January 2013, this version of “The Tin Drum” will be released by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD.

“The Tin Drum” begins in 1899 with a wanted arsonist named Oskar Matzerath being pursued by police in the rural area of Kashubia (which is located in the northwestern region of Poland).  Having nowhere to run, he sees a potato farmer named Anna Bronski.  He asks to hide under her long dress from the police and she obliges.  While the police are stumped of where the wanted man can be, Oskar, takes the time to have sex with Anna while hiding under her dress.  And the result is the two having a daughter named Agnes.

Agnes (portrayed by Angela Winkler, “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”, “Three”, “Benny’s Video”) grows up to become a young woman who is having an incestuous affair with her cousin, a man named Jan Bronski (portrayed by Daniel Olbrychski, “Salt”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The Promised Land”) that works at the Polish Post Office.

While the two have a secretive relationship, working as a nurse during World War I, she becomes engaged to Alfred Matzerath.  But as the two men have a close relationship with Agnes, she gets pregnant and gives birth to a boy named Oskar.  An intelligent boy at birth and is promised a tin drum when he reaches the age of three.  And for this young boy, this is the age that he is looking forward to.

And when he reaches the age of three and becomes infatuated with his tin drum, he overhears his father talking about how his son will inherit the grocery shop when he becomes older.  But for Oskar, he doesn’t want to become older, nor does he want to grow up.  He just wants to play his tin drum and stay the age of three for the rest of his life.

So, he devises a plan.  What if he fell off the stairs and gets into a major accident which prevents him from growing older.  Interesting enough, the plan works and as for the accident, his mother Agnes blames his inability to grow up on Alfred for not locking up the wine cellar.

But Oskar also finds out he has developed another skill, the ability to scream and shatter glass.

Meanwhile, as Oskar’s birthdays come and go, while getting older in age, he still retains the same body size and impresses the kids in the neighborhood through his special ability to break grass. Unfortunately, because of the attention he has gotten for playing his tin drum and shrieking, he become a bit belligerent at school and doesn’t want to listen to his teacher.  So, his mother has a tutor teaching him how to read books.

But it’s this age that Oskar is introduced to sex and starts to notice of his mother’s close relation to his uncle Jan.  We learn that every Thursday, while taking Oskar out to get a new drum (since he keeps breaking them), she leaves him at the local toy store, while she has sex with Jan at a nearby hotel and Oskar follows her and knows what his mother is up to.

Meanwhile, Germany is changing.  With Nazi sympathizers starting to grow and Oskar’s father Alfred now becoming to support Hitler’s ideals, during a family outing at the circus, Oskar meets Bebar, a wise dwarf and shows off his screaming talent.  Bebar tells Oskar that he should join the circus because the dwarves need to work together and show they can be responsible business people.  But for now, Oskar wants to remain in the sidelines as an observer.

As he gets older and becomes a teenager, his father does not like his son playing a tin drum and this causes problems in the family.  Also, Agnes becomes more guilt-ridden when she knows that she can’t have a relationship with two men, her loving her cousin more than her husband.  But also, the change of the city when Nazism goes on the rise.

With Oskar getting older in age but still looking as he did when he was three, how will life change for Oskar when the world and his family is thrust into chaos?

VIDEO:

“The Tin Drum” presented in this 2013 Blu-ray release of “The Tin Drum” is the new Criterion Collection version that showcases the longer cut that was created by Volker Schlöndorff in 2010.  The Criterion Collection explains in the booklet, “Director Volker Schlöndorff’s final cut of The Tin Drum originally ran 163 minutes, which was longer than his contract permitted; in the end, the studio and the filmmaker agreed on a 142-minute runtime for the theatrical release. Wishing, however, to finally restore the film to its original form, in 2010 Volker Schlöndorff assembled and added the missing scenes based on his editing notes and shooting script. It is this complete version that is presented here. The editor for the additional picture and sound material was Peter Adam, and the restoration was made possible by Argos Films, a coproducer of the film. The completed restoration was approved by Volker Schlöndorff.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine at Scanlab, in France, from a 35mm interpositive struck from the original camera negative; color grading was done on a Specter. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean.”

With that being said, while I can’t compare this Blu-ray release with the UK version, I can compare to the picture quality to the original 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release.  And one of the things that I noticed is the improvement of clarity, especially during the outdoor sequences.  From the daylight sequence in France, the clarity of the blue of actor David Bennent’s eyes, skin tones look natural and there is a fine layer of grain that can be seen.  While the film does have slight flickering in some scenes and also a bit of noise, the Blu-ray release already shows an improvement in picture quality when it comes to overall clarity and detail.  And for those who are upgrading to the new DVD, will be pleased with the upgrade in picture quality.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Tin Drum – The Criterion Collection #234” features a new lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. But because the film is primarily dialogue and musically driven, one shouldn’t expect an immersive soundtrack but mostly crystal clear dialogue and wonderful music from Maurice Jarr (“Dr. Zhivago”, “Ghost”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dead Poets Society”).  While one will hear the glass shattering during Oskar’s shrieking, sounding better than ever, use of surround channels are quite minor.    If anything, you may hear most of it during a scene when Oskar visits France.  But for the most part, this is a lossless track in which I heard no hiss or any problems due to the film’s age.

According to the Criterion Collection, “‘The Tin Drum’ was originally released with a monaural soundtrack. A 5.1 surround soundtrack was later created from a six-track magnetic element made at Studio Boulogne, in France, for the 1979 70mm blowup screenings of the film. The sound for the additional material in the complete version was created from the original music and effects track, a 1979 stereo music mix, and new ADR recorded at Studio Babelsberg, in Germany, under the supervision of Volker Schlöndorff.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioVube’s integrated workstation.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Tin Drum – The Criterion Collection #234” comes with the following special features:

  • Volker Schlöndorff – (1:07:24) Shot in 2012, director/co-writer Volker Schlöndorff discusses the film adaptation of “The Tin Drum”, the casting for Oskar, where the film was shot and putting together the version of “The Tin Drum” that he had originally wanted.
  • On the Tin Drum  – (20:12) Film scholar Timothy Corrigan (author of “New German Cinema: The Displaced Image”) discusses the importance of “The Tin Drum” and discussing its role in German cinema.
  • The Platform – (8:48) Featuring a scene from “The Tin Drum” accompanied by Gunter Grass reading a passage of his novel.  Featured in German with English subtitles.
  • Adorf and Carriere – (4:24) A video interview excerpt from the French television program “Les rendez-vous du dimanche”.  Actor Mario Adorf and co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere discuss working with Volker Schlöndorff.
  • Bennent and Schlöndorff – (4:13) A video interview with actor David Bennent and director Volker Schlöndorff filmed at the Cannes Film Festival. An excerpt from a 1979 episode of “Cine regards: Bilan du festival de Cannes”.
  • On Location – (3:24) An excerpt of a 1979 episode of “Cinema allemand” and Schlöndorff discusses shooting “The Tin Drum”.
  • Post-Palme – (1:24) A short archived footage of director Schlöndorff discussing the success of “The Tin Drum”.
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “The Tin Drum”.

EXTRAS:

“The Tin Drum – The Criterion Collection #234” comes with an 18-page booklet with the following essays: “Bang the Drum Loudly” by Geoffrey Macnab and “Gunter Grass on the Adaptation”.

Volker Schlöndorff is a filmmaker that has numerous films in his oeuvre that have entertained audiences all over the world.

From films such as “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”, “Strike”, “The Legend of Rita”, “Death of a Salesman” to the wonderful interview featured in “Billy Wilder Speaks”, Schlöndorff will be known for his 1979 masterpiece “Die Blechtrommel” (“The Tin Drum”).

One of the most original black comedies that one will ever see and will never be duplicated, “The Tin Drum” was not an easy film to adapt and the film’s believability of a boy that didn’t grow up had to ride on the shoulders of the character playing Oskar.  And sure enough, Schlöndorff found David Bennent, a boy who the filmmaker has said many times, that it was the perfect casting.  And to this day, of thousands of people he has met, not one could play the character of Oskar.

And I have to agree.

From the minute we are introduced to Bennent, a young boy playing a baby, to a 3-year-old, what was important was to find someone that can retain the sense of one not wanting to grow up and having his growth stunted and staying at the age of three.  Just describing it sounds so far-fetched but the film does have its farfetched moments.  Oskar being able to think up a plan of falling down the stairs, so he will never grow.  Oskar being able to scream and break glass, as if he had the super ability.  But most of all, Bennent having to play a child who some reason is intelligent but yet immature.  This tin drum means everything to him, no matter how old he may be.

Back then, I would assume that no one can imagine a child looking like a child even when grown up, but we have seen it happen with child actors Emmanuel Lewis to Gary Coleman, those who were born young, looked young even well in to their 20’s as if they have never aged.

But what captivates you with a film such as “The Tin Drum” is its main talent, it’s supporting cast and its audacious and surprising storyline.  A potato farmer trying to hide a man under her skirt, manages to get impregnated by her.  Their daughter ends up having a sexual affair with her cousin and marries a man with the same last name of her father.  We know that Oskar is not a dwarf but is he a product of incestuous relationships?  Suffice to say, to showcase a film with such boldness at the time, earned some controversy.  Moreso because the film does show nudity, but there were people who were shocked that an 11-year-old child actor would be exposed to naked women, would have to partake in scenes of having sex with a woman and also having to take part in nude scenes himself.

The film was controversial that it was banned in Ontario in 1980 and in 1997, the film was banned from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma for portraying underage sexuality.

But going back to its surprising storyline, not only do we get to see the growth of Oskar (not by body but by age and soul), we see this teenager who never wanted to grow and wanted to play his tin drum forever, get involved in situations in which many will call a dysfunctional lifestyle.  And while most films would become banal and make you sad and depressed for its child protagonist, with Oskar, you don’t know if this boy will become some kind of beast or monster or if he is going to retain this “I’m never going to grow up old” attitude.  Especially when he turns 16-years-old and he is unable to mask his interested in the opposite sex, let alone sex in general.

Bare in mind, this is still a teenager that carries a toy drum, still looks like he does at 3-years-old and behaves as one.  But yet, intelligent and clever to get the things that he wants.

And for the film’s efficacy, the way that Volker Schlöndorff is able to integrate surrealistic imagery to near sci-fi audacious scenes makes the film mystifying but yet entertaining and enjoyable.

As for this 2013 Blu-ray release, the newer footage introduced in the film is able to showcase Oskar as a more wise individual.   That he may cling to his tin drum and that he may have an appearance of a child but he is one observer that manages to get involved in troubling and absurd situations but one obvious new scene is when he discovers sexual erotica and his discussion of wanting to combine it with Goethe’s “Elective Affinities”.  An interesting scene because it shows the viewer that Oskar may have the body of a three-year-old, but he is a smart boy that is much older.   But we learn how this boy is not as innocent as he looks.

Also, another surprising in addition is the introduction of a man, a survivor of Treblinka who’s wife and children were slaughtered in gas camps.  But he goes to purchase the grocery store owned by Oskar’s father.  But an important scene that shows how much was lost during World War II and how innocent people were murdered.

Bringing more humanity to the storyline and is much more effective to the storyline that I enjoyed this newer version than the previous original release.  So, I’m quite pleased that filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff had finally received the opportunity to cut the film the way he wanted.

As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned, the picture quality is better look on Blu-ray than the 2004 DVD release as expected.  Clarity and detail is much more evident, as well as more pronounced colors during the outdoor scenes, especially the scenes that take place in France.

And while I give high marks to this Blu-ray release for its PQ and AQ, especially for its newer special features, I highly recommend owners of the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release to hang on to that copy.  The reason being, is that the audio commentary with Volker Schlöndorff and composer Maurice Jarr, the “Banned in Oklahoma” documentary and a few other special features were not included on the Blu-ray release. Even the 2013 and 2004 booklet have different content.  The 2004 DVD also featured a reprinted excerpt from the original screenplay’s unfilmed ending with an introduction by Schlöndorff, as well as production sketches, designs and promotional art are not on this Blu-ray release.

I can understand that there is no audio commentary because the original version from the 2004 DVD release fit the original 142-minute cute of the film, while 2013 Blu-ray release is much longer at 163-minutes.  But  the UK Arrow Blu-ray release version does include an audio commentary.  Personally, it would have been nice if the Criterion Collection did include both the original and new versions of the film on this Blu-ray release and included the original 2004 DVD content.

With that being said, overall, “The Tin Drum” is a brilliant film from filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. A black comedy so original and unique that over 30-years later, it still is captivating.  And with this new 162-minute cut, is even better than the original.  Volker Schlöndorff’s “The Tin Drum” is a masterpiece that deserves to be in the collection of the cineaste.

Highly recommended!

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