Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum, Me and My Drum
Leader of the New German Cinema but, like then-wife sometimes collaborator Margarethe von Trotta, a critic of German complicity, Volker Schlöndorff followed his literary bent in Günter Grass’ -- both director and novelist were among the four co-screenwriters -- The Tin Drum/Die Blechtrommel. The film shared Cannes’ Palme d’Or with Apocalypse Now and brought home Hollywood’s 1979 Oscar for Foreign-Language Film.
The multilingual director/co-producer introduced, and answered questions about, the hundred-sixty-four-minute Digital Director’s Cut, which reincorporates sequences the novelist lobbied for -- the Rasputin orgy and the crazed Treblinka survivor-disinfector Fajngold (Wojciech Pszoniak) -- from twenty-five minutes trimmed to the bin thirty years ago.
The controversial film covers two-thirds of the large novel, up to the end of the war. It was not that the German Volk changed after 1945, but because his lead actor had grown up, with his voice changed and he unwilling to pigeonhole his career; and because that lead character loses his glass-shattering scream and toy drum; and because a producer would be hard to find, Schlöndorff still has not done the continuation urged by Grass. This more complete version is not slated for theatrical release, but it does add brief archival footage to set background without printed titles, since the director’s teen daughter convinced him of young people’s fuzziness on the Polish Corridor, Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk), and Polish-German tensions there.
Though “35mm film is still the best, progress in digital is amazing,” for instance in cleaning up sound of the original release and re-recording or –creating voices for the restored sections, whose magnetic audio tapes had deteriorated in the interim. All this is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s To Save and Protect: International Festival of Film Preservation, this year’s eighth annual celebration which presents over thirty-five restored works from thirteen countries, mostly New York premières and some in versions never previously screened anywhere in the United States. (Fifty per cent of all pre-1952 features are gone entirely, and 75% of those made before 1930.)
This movie rests on the small shoulders of David Bennent as “three-year-old” Oskar Matzerath. The filmmaker had thought of a midget for the part -- and there are marvelous ones in the film, Fritz Hakl and Mariella Oliveri as Bebra and Roswitha -- before realizing that a real child was needed, and the undersized twelve-year-old comes up wonderful. Though he narrates a little, his is not the child’s voice of dual-level irony like Huck Finn’s. Rather, he observes, and protests physically against the surrounding adult madness. He is witness by chance or, because they consider him less than fully aware or because of their own projections or needs, grown-ups’ ignoring his proximity to their intimate or public encounters. On the larger canvas, this non-cloying Forrest Gump is present at essential events, at the rise of National Socialism; the invasion, occupation and Russian retaking of Poland and the Corridor; the occupation and liberation of Paris; Normandy, Berlin and the post-hostilities flight westward of refugees in boxcars that mirror the fate of European Jewry.
While still a fetus, he resisted coming into the world of 1924, but midwives and a severed umbilical cord cut off retreat. The Rabelaisian tale had begun with Kashubian, i.e., Slavic, potato gatherer Anna (Tina Engel), who shelters under her four skirts fugitive arsonist Josef Koljaiczek (Roland Teubner) -- he rumored to have subsequently become a Chicago fire-insurance and matchstick magnate. Years afterwards, their pretty daughter Agnes (Angela Winkler) marries stolid stupid German grocer Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf) while continuing to carry on in their home and in Thursday trysts at Pension Flora with their mutual best friend, poor dapper Polish Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski).
It takes little Oskar a while to catch on about who his biological father is, but by then he has seen enough of petit bourgeois hanky-panky, gemütlichkeit and nationalism, anyway. The only thing that has kept the boy hanging around is the promise of a tin drum for his third birthday, to be repaired or replaced at the toyshop of Jewish Sigismund Markus (Charles Aznavour). Red-and-white lacquered drum protected, he stages the accident which (by his own willpower) keeps him from growing beyond that birthday. With his shattering scream and pa-rum-pum-pum-pum-ing drum, he affects or disrupts lives and events.
No Peter Pan, Oskar loses virginity and innocence, in what he sees and in the flesh, and he loses loved ones to the madness that adults make. Ironically, shallow clodhopper Alfred is not the real father of either of his offspring, but cinema continuity is in the wind when Oskar dandles infant Kurt and promises a tin drum for his third birthday. The beat goes on.
(Released by New World Pictures and rated "R" by MPAA.)