The Tin Drum
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.
Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum receives a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, who present the new 2010 director’s cut of the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Arrow Films released a Blu-ray version of the film in the UK (locked to Region B) which presented both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut. The big difference here, of course, is that Criterion—I’m guessing at the request of the director—has only included the director’s cut. This will possibly disappoint some, but the key advantage I saw to going this route in comparison to Arrow’s decision to pack both versions of the film on one disc is that Criterion’s transfer had the chance to look better.
Arrow’s disc ended up employing a simple “seamless branching” design where both versions of the film shared the first 34-minutes contained in one file on the disc while each film’s remaining running time received their own files. Essentially what this led to was well over 4-hours’ worth of footage compressed on one disc. The transfers for each version of the film presented some noticeable compression noise that I attributed to the fact there was so much packed on one disc.
Apparently I was incorrect in assuming this and it looks as though these artifacts are more than likely in the master both Arrow and Criterion received. Oddly, even though Criterion’s presentation of the director’s cut technically has more room to breathe, receiving a much bigger file on the disc in comparison to Arrow’s, I’d say the transfers look pretty identical on my television screen. The only discernible difference I could detect was that the Criterion wasn’t as dark as Arrow’s, if only by a little bit; the Criterion shows a few more details in some of the darker scenes, like folds in a jacket. But the Criterion still presents some issues in resolving the film’s grain, and instead of getting a clean, natural look, we yet again get a noticeably noisy, pixilated presentation with some obvious blocking patterns. Similar to the Arrow release these issues are in no way a deal breaker but there are moments where they’re inescapable and hard to ignore.
Other aspects of the presentation are fine, though, and the plusses are the same in comparison to the Arrow release. The image is very sharp with excellent definition and detail, along with cleanly defined lines. Colours are saturated nicely and look rather brilliant throughout, and despite some crushing black levels are fine, again the Criterion version presenting a few more details in darker scenes in comparison to the Arrow. The print is in stunning shape with only a few blemishes, not counting some of the stylistic choices early on in the film, where I believe Schlöndorff is attempting to recreate the look/frame rate of a silent film (even if it is in colour.) It’s also worth mentioning that the newly inserted scenes don’t look out of place in comparison to the rest of the film and look to be of the same quality.
In comparison to the Criterion DVD it looks far better but it unfortunately still exhibits some artifacts in the digital transfer. It looks decent enough but could still be better.
Criterion’s DVD presented both the original mono track and a newly created 5.1 surround track approved by Schlöndorff. This release only contains the 5.1 track (now in lossless DTS-HD MA) which I am again guessing is the director’s preferred track, especially for his new cut of the film.
I’m sure some will be disappointed by the lack of the mono but this 5.1 track is effective and works nicely for the film. Dialogue remains in the fronts, primarily the center speaker, while music and sound effects make better use of the surrounds. The score moves naturally around the viewer, with drums banging in behind the viewer on occasion accompanied by a decent amount of bass. Some of the more “action-packed” sequences present some natural movements and splits, and a thunderstorm early on delivers an impressive thunder sound, giving the illusion of a storm forming overhead and shaking the ground while it’s at it.
Sound quality and range are both excellent. Dialogue sounds crisp and clean, even if some of the newer dubs for the inserted material can sound a little off—digital trickery was used to make some cast members sound younger. The track also doesn’t present any background noise and sounds wonderfully clean. Overall it’s an effective, and rather sharp track that never overwhelms any other aspect of it.
(As a note Criterion has removed the Isolated Score that was available on the DVD.)
Unfortunately this upgrade loses a lot of what was found on the original Criterion DVD, though in some cases it’s easy to see why. For example the “deleted scenes” found on that DVD have actually been reinserted into the director’s cut so having them as a supplement again would be redundant. But some of the other material that is now missing added some good value.
To make up for some of this missing material (including the old commentary) Criterion has recorded an all new interview with Volker Schlöndorff, running a staggering yet surprisingly entertaining 67-minutes. In the interview he covers every aspect of the film’s production, starting with getting involved in the project and developing the script. He talks about the film’s themes and the character of Oskar in great detail, while also talking about Germany during the Second World War. From here he moves on to the cast and the importance in finding the right people, focusing particularly on the casting of David Bennent as Oskar. He addresses some of the controversies that arose, particularly an incident in Oklahoma where it was accused of being child pornography, and he then concludes with talking about putting together this director’s cut. This last bit was a little disappointing as the Arrow edition actually offered up an interview with Schlöndorff where he goes into more detail about putting this cut together and recording the new audio for it; here he basically just summarizes how he came to make this cut. We get some footage of Bennent recording for the new edit but the Arrow release presented more. Past this one slight issue it’s an incredibly informative and engaging interview.
Also new to this edition is On The Tin Drum, a 20-minute interview with film scholar Timothy Corrigan. Corrigan, author of New German Film: The Displaced Image, talks about the New German Cinema and its birth from the anxieties that followed the war and the American influences that came in during that period. He then talks a little about how The Tin Drum fits into this period and goes over the additions of the director’s cut, while also touching on Schlöndorff’s mise-en-scene and his “grouping of three” that can be found throughout. In all it’s a solid, brief edition, giving an introduction to the New German Cinema while offering a decent analytical element to the supplements.
The remaining supplements have been ported from Criterion’s DVD edition starting with The Platform, which presents author Günter Grass reading a passage from his novel where Oskar interrupts a Nazi youth rally with his drum. The audio plays over the scene from the film. The audio and the scene don’t match up entirely, and of course the scene plays out a bit differently from the book with a few changes and embellishment on Schlöndorff’s part, but the heart of it is the same. The supplement manages to offer a bit of a look into the adaptation process. The final couple minutes of the feature present photos of the author, presumably taken while working on the screenplay for the film and visiting the set, which he apparently only did once.
There are then same television interviews carried over from the DVD, starting with a 4-and-half-minute clip from a 1979 French television program featuring Jean-Claude Carrière and actor Mario Adorf. Here Carrière talks about the issues involved in adapting the story. He mentions how Schlöndorff was stuck on the idea he had to make the film with a dwarf but it eventually went to the idea of simply casting a child and how the discovery of Bennent allowed the whole thing to come together. Adorf only has a minute or so of the interview, where he talks about working with Bennent. We then get some footage from Cannes, including a 4-minute segment featuring interviews with Schlöndorff and Bennent. Bennent talks about the film’s story and his character, while also talking about what he might end up doing for a career in the future (sadly he sees himself working in the circus.) Schlöndorff talks about the certain anxiety in waiting for the judges to decide on the winner of the Palme d’or. His film was up against Apocalypse Now and the two both ended up sharing the award. Also from Cannes is a 40-second clip featuring Schlöndorff expressing his happiness in winning the award for Europe, and then the section also features 3-minutes worth of behind-the-scenes footage that appeared on French television in January of 1979.
The disc’s supplements then close off with the film’s original theatrical trailer. The booklet features a new essay by writer Geoffrey Macnab, replacing an essay found with the original DVD by Eric Rentschler, with Macnab’s essay of course focusing on this new cut. Interestingly he mentions that Schlöndorff hopes the term director’s cut will be forgotten for this film and that this version will simply be accepted as the intended, finished version, further suggesting Schlöndorff is the one that wished the original theatrical version to be left off of this edition. The booklet then closes off with the same note by Günter Glass about adapting the story.
On top of the deleted scenes mentioned earlier this edition is also missing more material found on the previous DVD, starting with the audio commentary by Schlöndorff found on that edition. Of course, since it was recorded for the theatrical cut, it was probably seen as inappropriate to include it with this new cut (the Arrow edition only included the commentary with the theatrical version.) But the remaining material would have still proven useful. The previous Criterion DVD also included a reflection recorded by the director that played over various materials like photos, storyboards, and other images. It also featured a 31-minute documentary about the “Oklahoma controversy” where the film came under charges of child pornography. Also missing is a section devoted to the film’s scripted ending that was never filmed, and, not all that surprisingly, a photo gallery is missing.
In all there’s some fine material on here, the lengthy interview with Schlöndorff being the best item. Of course what makes the release a little frustrating is that I know there’s a lot of material out there that has been excluded from this release.
As a whole it’s a decent edition, though I had higher hopes for it. I was hoping the transfer found here would look better than Arrow’s but Criterion’s looks pretty similar, suggesting that the issues that appear in both are inherent in the masters both companies received. So again we get a nice enough video presentation, but it’s laced with noticeable noise and artifacts that hamper it a bit. It’s also a bit disappointing some decent material from the previous DVD has been left off of here. So simply because it could have been obviously better it’s an underwhelming release.