The Tin Drum (Oskar’s Version)
I watched The Tin Drum (The Tin Drum Diaries, Part 11)
I mean, man. Where to begin.
Where to begin, dear reader?
The birth scene in which a 13-year-old actor who looks about six plays an in-utero baby emerging from his mother’s womb, which is composed of what I can only imagine is asbestos or some other hazardous pink building material?
The OPENING scene, in which a grown man crawls under an old woman’s skirt in a potato field to hide from approaching soldiers?
The extensive audio-heavy shots of a woman vomiting after a dead horse’s head washes up on the beach out of the ocean and it’s crawling with live eels? How about the graphic eel beheading in the following scene? Hey, how about when that same woman thinks she’s pregnant so she tries to undo that by aggressively chowing down on every raw fish she can get her hands on while staring blankly into the void, again with heavy audio in case you were curious about what eating an almost-still-alive fish sounds like? Yeah — the same woman who threw up at the sight of those eels does a 180 exactly one scene later and invites us, the audience, to watch what she does next and just fucking dares us not to throw up.
Should I talk about the multiple sex scenes that feature a child? (Spoiler: no. I’m not going there because it’s just a whole other thing and you can Google “tin drum movie controversy” and read alllllll about it.)
The tiny giggling Nazi children? The scream-singing that breaks glass as entertainment for German troops? The fact that the haunted-looking child actor who played Oskar kind of looks like a combo of two of my exes? (I might delete that; probably not though, they don’t read this.)
I watched it. It was two hours and 43 minutes long. I watched it. It was very very insane. If I wasn’t nervous about copyright stuff, I would just post clips here. I kept texting clips to people while I watched to remind myself that life still existed out there, outside of my apartment and The Tin Drum. I made an audio commentary track, sort of, or started one; its highlights include me singing “Riders on the Storm” while I try to find my Criterion channel password, and an extended portion where I just sigh as though in profound agony and say, “This is going to be so, so long.”
Ok, but you know what? All snark aside, I didn’t dislike it. I mean, it was something to behold. It really went there with the magical realism; building a set to look like the inside of Oskar’s mother’s womb is an admirable commitment to the spirit of the narrative. It was more like magical realism, hold the realism, except of course for the World War II of it all. Nazis were all over this movie, and that’s as real as it gets.
The child actor who plays Oskar, David Bennent, was pretty incredible. I really can’t imagine how he got his head around this role, of such a strange, intense adult, wearing the outside appearance of a child to serve his own kooky purposes. I looked him up on IMDB and I’m pleased to report that he got work consistently and was still working as recently as 2019. Way to go, little weirdo!
Oskar’s talent is screaming so loud that he breaks glass, while, of course, accompanying himself on his drum. He’ll work up a nice drumroll and then open up his mouth and go “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” until whatever glass is around — church windows, wine glasses, the spectacles of his enemies — shatters. Ta-da! My favorite moment in the film was when he first meets a circus performer who befriends him and the circus performer asks, “Are you an artist too?” Oskar shrugs, the picture of modesty, and says, “Not really, but…” then picks up his drumsticks and does his thing, screaming his little head off, in the middle of a busy fairground. That made me laugh.
Folks, what can I say? This film is everything I possibly could have imagined it would be. I would say, if you feel like you’re not entirely familiar with Challenging European Cinema, get your eyes on this. It’s certainly that (so many sad clowns!), but, aside from the length, it’s not totally inaccessible. In my French Cinema class, we had to watch India Song, which makes a very profound point about something through the incisive use of nothing happening at all for stretches of ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time. I don’t mean nothing happening at all like “That was kind of a weird episode of Succession, nothing really happened,” I mean the camera is pointed at a wall and stays there. So The Tin Drum is not that, although it may not be, to quote my mother when I told her I’d finally watched this thing, “everyone’s cup of tea.” (She loves this movie, by the way.)
Here’s a story about Challenging European Cinema: I took a second class with the professor who made me watch India Song, even though he made me watch India Song. This was in Paris; he was a really delightful French man, a great teacher, and he loved pushing the buttons of his American students. This was in 2005, and he once gleefully delivered a lecture to a bunch of college-aged French majors studying abroad in Paris about how Amélie is ultimately hacky garbage (don’t worry, I still love Amélie, although honestly I’m more of a Delicatessen gal, but I digress). He enjoyed shocking Americans, is my point. So the second semester, he taught not French Cinema, but European Cinema. And we all go to the first class, and the room is packed with people. Now, this is before the registration period has frozen or whatever it’s called (God, it’s been a long time since I was in college), where you test out different classes and decide what you want to keep and what you want to drop, and then past a certain date, no more changes. So he gives us a fun intro in the first class and is super charming and great and says that the first assignment, the first film we’re to watch, is Goodbye Lenin! That’s a really delightful romp, a political comedy, very easy to digest, dreamy lead actor, etc. etc. Okay, so everyone’s like great, this class is fun, watches Goodbye Lenin!, comes back for the second class, and at this point the window for dropping classes has closed, so we cannot drop this class anymore, we’re in it for the long haul. He tells us our next assignment is an Italian film called Teorema. In this one, a young Terence Stamp plays a mysterious young man called simply The Visitor, who comes into the life of a family one day, has sex with every member of the family, and for the rest of the movie, they all, in their own way, go insane. One wanders in the desert forever, one I believe blinds herself, etc. This director also directed Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which is supposed to be one of the most brutal, hard-to-watch films of all time (someone can fact check that for me, I will not be watching it). Anyway, so everyone comes back for class number three, looking kind of shell-shocked and annoyed, so mission accomplished for my professor, and he stood in front of the class that day and asked us with pointed sweetness if we enjoyed the film, and after we all groan in response he says, with a huge grin on his face, “European Cinema is not all Goodbye, Lenin! Welcome to my class.”
So if you’re up for it, give The Tin Drum a try; for reasons too annoying to get into, I can attest that it is now working properly on HBOMax (I’m telling you all, the process of watching this thing was an ordeal). Content warning for Nazis, eel murder, sex scenes with a child, piercing screams, excessive drumming, and clowns.
It’s not too terribly unlike this scene from Big Mouth, one of my favorite things I’ve seen all year. If you’re short on time, just watch this and you’ll be all set.