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VS one of the leading members of the New German Cinema, along with Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders, who were active during the 1970s. VS had an unusual education and training as a film maker. He received his high school and university education in Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He did an apprenticeship as an assistant to a number of leading French directors including Louis Malle and Alain Resnais 1960-64. Stepped out on his own in 1967 and then formed his own film production company. VS's French training resulted in highly crafted, beautifully made films. Able to get funding for larger scale films from German TV stations. Major films: "Young Törless" (1966) based on a novel by Robert Musil about the degradation and bastardisation of a young man in an Austrian military academy before WW1; "The Sudden Fortune of the Poor People of Kombach" (1970); "The Lost Honour of Katerina Blum" (1975) based on a short story by Heinrich Böll about the power of the right-wing press; "The Tin Drum" (1979).
Based on the famous novel by Günter Grass, The Tin Drum (1959), the first volume of a Danzig trilogy of novels. Film based on first part of novel up to end of WW2. GG was born in 1927 in Danzig. Conscripted in last years of WW2 and forced to fight until captured by Americans. After the war GG was an important member of a group of writers (including Heinrich Böll) who wanted to revive German literature after WW2. Aim was to expose the corruption of the German language during the Nazi period which they regarded as a cultural catastrophe. In many of their writings they sought to understand the reasons for the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of WW2. The film won equal first prize at the Cannes film festival along with Coppola's Apocalypse Now and won an "Oscar" for the best foreign film in 1980. Film score by Maurice Jarre.
Set in Danzig/Gdansk which was part of the German Reich until the end of WW2 when it became part of Poland. As a result of the Versailles Treaty East Prussia was separated from the rest of Germany by a "corridor" of land around Danzig which was given to Poland. Access to East Prussia and the fate of the Germans in Danzig were used by Hitler in his campaign to undo the Treaty and restore the Fatherland. As part of the settlement of borders at the end of WW2 Poland was literally moved westwards. The USSR seized eastern Poland. Poland was compensated with part of Eastern Prussia. GG and his family part of the millions of ethnic Germans (7-9 milllion?) who were forced to flee "Poland" after the war. Still controversy today about where "Germany's" borders really lie.
The protagonist of the film is the young man Oskar Matzerath (played by 12 year old David Bennent) who was born in Danzig in 1924. O is the illegitimate son of either Alfred Matzerath (a German of lower middle class background, who was typical of those who voted for Hitler) or Jan Bronski (an ethnic Pole). Neither O or his mother know for sure who is O's real father. Thus O epitomises the confusion the Danzig Germans felt about their nationality - were they Poles or Germans? A the age of 3 (1927 the year GG was born in Danzig and the year of the first major electoral success of the Nazi Party) O throws himself down the steps of the cellar. As a result of his injury and as a protest against the morally and politically corrupt world of all grown-ups, O decides to stop growing. Only begins to grow again at the end of WW2 after his German father's death. O also has two other means of protesting against the adult world - the beating of his toy tin drum (purchased from the Jewish shop owner Markus, played by Charles Aznavour) and his piercing cry which shatters glass (compare with event known as Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish uprising organised by the Nazis in 1938 to smash all Jewish shop windows across Germany). VS says this about O:
For me he (Oskar) has two typical characteristics - refusal (Verweigerung or conscientious objection) and protest. He rejects the world to such an extent that he simply doesn't grow any more... He prtotests so loudly that his voice smashes glass.
Brilliant portrayal of both these sides of O's character by David Bennent. O joins a circus troop of other "Lilliputians" led by Bebra who shares his protest against thte world of grown-ups. The troop entertains German troops at the Atlantic wall in France. O's actions lead to the suicide of his mother, death of his "Polish father" Jan Bronski in the Danzig post office, gets his "German father's" girl friend Maria pregnant, and gets his "German father" killed by the invading Russians, thus completing his protest against the adult world.
1. The meaning of Oskar's refusal to grow. Protest against the moral and political corruption of the adult world which O refuses to join by not growing. Symbol for the suspension of democratic and liberal freedoms in Germany during the Nazi period. Raises issue of those who did or did not oppose Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during 1930s.
2. O born in 1924 at the beginning of the economic upturn. Family discusses importance of currency stability at O's 3rd birthday party (12 Sept 1927). Refernce to hyperinflation of 1923.
3. Oskar's means of protest - beating the tin drum and his high pitched screaming which breaks glass. How is protest possible in a dictatorship where dissenters are killed or sent to labour camps? Note the occasions when O screams. Examples, when adults like his school teacher try to take away his drum; when he turns 6 in 1933, the year the Nazis come to power, he is examined by a doctor. O screams thus breaking specimen bottles in the doctor's surgery, including one with a foetus (the "serpent's egg" in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar").
4. The relationship between O and Bebra, the leader of the troup of Lilliputian entertainers. Bebra is 53 and tells O that he decided to stop growing at the age of 10. B urges O to use his "artistic" skill of breaking glass. O refuses because he prefers to be a spectator not an artist. B replies "we must direct the action or others will." B predicts others (i.e. the Nazis) will one day come to build grandstands from where they will preach the downfall of "our kind." Reference to Nazi policy of killing all handicaped and racially inferior individuals.
5. Picture of "everyday" Nazism. Uncle Greff is a leader in the Hitler Youth. Their first street march provokes onlookers to throw vegetables and stones. The behaviour of Oskar's "German father" Alfred Matzerath. Typical of the class who joined the Nazi party. He buys a radio in order to hear Hitler's speeches. Replaces the picture of Beethoven on the wall with one of Hitler. Switches them around when the Nazi's defeated. Film provides a good analysis of "everyday" Nazism.
6. One of O's most successful protests at a Nazi rally in Danzig. O sits under the grandstand and disrupts proceedings by beating his tin drum. The official band lose concentration and the visiting Nazi officals can't keep in step. Result is total confusion and breakdown of order. The local people keep breaking into Blue Danube waltz. Suggests that one individual's protest can be effective and that the German people's adherence to Nazism only skin deep. They prefer to dance than make the Nazi salute.
7. The meaning of the symbol of fish - a major industry of the North Sea and Baltic area. The catching of eels using rotting horse heads thrown off the beach. Old man recalls that the best catch was in WW1 when the eels grew fat feeding on the corpses of English sailors on board ships sunk in naval battles of coast. The compulsive eating of fish by O's mother Agnes who can't cope with O's protest.
8. The issue of anti-semitism and scapegoats or Sundenbock. The ejection of the Jewish shop-keeper, Markus, from O's mother's funeral. The smashing of his shop on Kristallnacht (many synagogues burned across Germany) and his suicide. O picked on by other children, "the soupmakers".
9. Role of church in not resisting rise of Hitler. Statue of Mary and Christ child in church. O slaps Christ child for not protesting. He asks "can't you or won't you?" O refers to Hitler "the Gas Man" as a Father Christmas in which the German people believed.
10. References to Hitler. H's portrait replaces Beehoven's. Use of his speeches as background to family life. First speech refers to Danzig Corridor crisis, claims Danzig is a "German" city, stresses east would still be barbaric if not for German culture. Another speech announces the war against Poland.
11. O's relationships with his two fathers. Indirectly leads to his Polish father's death in the Danzig Post Office, the site of a Polish rebellion against the Germans on 1st September 1939. O's more direct "murder" of his German father. The family is trapped by the invading Russian soldiers. Alfred tries to hide his Nazi Party lapel badge from the Russians. O intervenes and A has to swallow the badge to hide it, thus choking on it which leads to him being shot. Once O's father has been buried O decides to end his protest and to resume growing. He throws himself into his father's grave. He his now 21 years old - the age of maturity.
12. GG's use of black humour to make his points about the rise of Nazism and the effects of WW2 on German society.