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The Tin Drum (film)

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Title: The Tin Drum (film)  
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Subject: 1979 Cannes Film Festival, List of German submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Angela Winkler, Jadran Film, Gate of Hell (film)
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The Tin Drum (film)

The Tin Drum
Original film poster
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Produced by Franz Seitz
Anatole Dauman
Written by Volker Schlöndorff
Jean-Claude Carrière
Franz Seitz
Based on The Tin Drum 
by Günter Grass
Starring David Bennent
Mario Adorf
Angela Winkler
Daniel Olbrychski
Katharina Thalbach
Charles Aznavour
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Igor Luther
Edited by Suzanne Baron
Distributed by United Artists (West Germany)
New World Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 3 May 1979 (1979-05-03) (Wiesbaden)
  • 19 September 1979 (1979-09-19) (France)
Running time 142 minutes
162 minutes (Director's cut)
Country West Germany
Language German
Box office $2 million (US)[1]

The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel) is a 1979 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Günter Grass. It was directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff. Stylistically, it is a surrealistic black comedy.

The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival[2] and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 52nd Academy Awards.[3]


The film begins in 1899, with the grandfather of Oskar Matzerath, the main character, being pursued by the police through rural Kashubia. Hiding underneath the skirts of a young woman named Anna Bronski, whom he later marries and has a daughter with – Oskar's mother – he evades the authorities until he apparently drowns trying to escape them. As time goes by, Anna's daughter Agnes has an incestuous affair with her cousin Jan Bronski, a worker in the Polish Post Office, until she is introduced to the charismatic Alfred Matzerath while serving as a nurse during World War I. The two men become firm friends, albeit love rivals, and later Agnes gives birth to a son, Oskar. Oskar has an adult mentality since birth and upon hearing from Alfred that he will inherit his grocery shop when he is an adult, he decides to stop growing by the age of three.

On Oskar's third birthday, he is given a tin drum, something that will remain with him for the rest of the film. Oskar throws himself down the cellar stairs, strangely injuring himself, and from that day on he does not grow any older. It is discovered that Oskar has the ability to shatter glass with his voice, which he uses to cause a disruption whenever he is upset. Oskar uses his drum for similar purposes, such as disrupting a Nazi rally. During a visit to the circus, Oskar meets Bebra, a performing dwarf to whom Oskar can relate.

When Alfred, Agnes, Jan and Oskar are on an outing to the beach, they see an eel-picker at work collecting eels from a washed-up horse's head, a sight that makes Agnes repeatedly vomit. Alfred buys some of the eels, and a confrontation begins when he prepares them for dinner that night and insists that she eat them. His insensitivity causes her to become distraught, but she returns to the table and eats them, ultimately leading her to develop a strange addiction to raw fish, from which she gets food poisoning and eventually dies. At his mother's funeral, Oskar witnesses Sigismund Markus, the Jewish toymaker who supplies him with drums, who was also in love with Agnes, being told to leave the funeral because he is Jewish; Nazism is on the rise, and the Jewish and Polish residents of Danzig are under increasing pressure from the German community. Markus commits suicide during Kristallnacht, when his shop is attacked by SA men, and synagogues are burned down.

On 1 September 1939, Oskar, while looking for the Polish caretaker Kobyella, who can repair his drum, unwittingly leads Jan into the Polish Post Office, which is about to join an armed standoff against the SS by the Polish workers. During the battle, Kobyella is shot while fetching a new drum for Oskar, and Jan is wounded. They withdraw to the storeroom and play Skat until Kobyella eventually dies and the Germans capture the building. Oskar is taken home as Jan is arrested and eventually executed.

Despite the recent turbulence, Alfred's shop resumes business normally and he employs the fifteen-year-old Maria as housekeeper. Oskar seduces Maria, but is later irritated when he discovers Alfred having sex with her. Oskar breaks in and disrupts them, causing Maria to become intensely embarrassed and angry. Oskar tries to seduce her and she becomes even angrier. She and Oskar fight and he hits her in the stomach. She becomes pregnant and becomes Alfred's wife. Oskar also has a brief sexual relationship with Lina Greff, the wife of the local grocer and scoutmaster, who is later found hanged.

During World War II, Oskar comes across Bebra again, and he meets Roswitha, a new member of his troupe, which travels around to entertain the German troops. Oskar decides to join Bebra's team, using his glass-shattering voice as part of the act. Oskar and Roswitha begin a romantic affair which is cut short when she is killed by artillery fire during the Allied invasion of Normandy while on tour in France. After a lift back to Danzig with the team, Oskar bids farewell and returns home. Much of the city has been destroyed and the Russians are fast approaching. Oskar meets his now three-year-old son Kurt, to whom he gives a tin drum much like his own.

As the Russians finally enter the city, the family are hiding in the cellar when a group of Russian soldiers break in and gang-rape Lina. Alfred is killed by an Asiatic Red Army soldier after choking violently on his Nazi party pin in an attempt to swallow it. During Alfred's burial, for which cardboard boxes are fitted together to make a casket, Oskar decides that he will now grow up and throws his drum into Alfred's grave. As he does, Kurt throws a stone at his head and he is knocked unconscious and falls into the grave, a catalyst that causes him to start growing again. Soon afterwards, all of the family apart from Anna Bronski are deported from the city, which is to be occupied only by Poles. As the train leaves, the film ends as it begins; with Anna Bronski sitting in her potato field, watching the train go by.



The film was mostly shot in West Germany, with some street scenes, particularly ones concerning the landmarks of Danzig, shot in Gdańsk. Soviet-Polish authorities gave the crew little time in Poland since the novel itself had been banned in Eastern Bloc countries. The scenes with the Polish Post Office were shot in Zagreb, Croatia, as were several generic street scenes. The scenes in France were shot on-set. Schlöndorff was authorised by Grass himself during much of the preproduction and the writing of the script. David Bennent was chosen as the role of Oskar when Schlöndorff was discussing with a doctor the possibility of a child whose growth stops at an early age, and the doctor brought up the case of the son of the actor Heinz Bennent, whom Schlöndorff was friends with. During the filming several difficulties arose: there was a supposed love affair between Daniel Olbrychski and Angela Winkler, and a romantic rivalry between Fritz Hakl, who played Bebra, and the fiancé of Mariella Oliveri, who played Roswitha. While filming in Poland, a production assistant was arrested by the authorities when trying to buy eels from fishing boats for the beach scene, accused of attempting to sabotage the national industries.[4]


The Tin Drum was one of the most financially successful German films of the 1970s. It won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was jointly awarded the 1979 Palme d'Or at 1979 Cannes Film Festival, along with Apocalypse Now.[5]

New World Pictures paid $400,000 for the US rights.[1]

The film features scenes in which Bennet, then 11 years of age and playing a stunted 16-year-old, licks effervescing sherbet powder from the navel of a 16-year-old girl, played by Katharina Thalbach. Thalbach was 24 years old at the time. Subsequently, Bennent appears to have oral sex and then intercourse with her.

In 1980, the film version of The Tin Drum was first cut, and then banned as child pornography by the Ontario Censor Board in Canada.[6] Similarly, on June 25, 1997, following a ruling made by State District Court Judge Richard Freeman, who had reportedly only viewed a single isolated scene of the film, The Tin Drum was banned from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, citing the state's obscenity laws for portraying underage sexuality. All copies in Oklahoma City were likewise confiscated and at least one person who had rented the film on video tape was threatened with prosecution. Michael Camfield, leader of a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the police department on July 4, 1997, alleging that the tape had been illegally confiscated and his rights infringed.

This led to a high-profile series of hearings on the film's merits as a whole versus the controversial scenes, and the role of the judge as censor. The film emerged vindicated and most copies were returned within a few months.[7][8] By 2001, all the cases had been settled and the film is legally available in Oklahoma County. This incident was covered in the documentary film Banned in Oklahoma, which is included in the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release of The Tin Drum.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 191
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Tin Drum".  
  3. ^ "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-08. 
  4. ^ DVD commentary by Volker Schloerndorff [concerns entire section]
  5. ^ Julia Knight, New German Cinema: Images of a Generation, (Wallflower Press, 2004), P. 26
  6. ^ "The Current: Whole Show Blow-by-Blow".  
  7. ^ PUBLIB:3847 "Tin Drum" seized as obscene in Oklahoma (fwd)., July 21, 1997.
  8. ^ A Fiasco in the Making.
  9. ^ Banned in OklahomaTrivia for . Internet Movie Database.

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