Volker Schlondorff's Cinema: Adaptation, Politics, and the "Movie-Appropriate"

By Hans-Bernhard Moeller; George Lellis | Go to book overview

15
The Tin Drum

The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel, 1979) holds a key place in Volker Schlöndorff's career. As a multiple prizewinner, The Tin Drum represents, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), the apotheosis of critical, popular, and commercial success of the New German Cinema. This adaptation of Günter Grass's 1959 international best-seller of the same title was Schlöndorff's first foray since Michael Kohlhaas into comparatively high-budget, international filmmaking. It cemented Schlöndorff's reputation as a director who could successfully bring to the screen works of great literature that would ordinarily be considered “unfilmable. ”

A sure-footed, intense cinematic adaptation of a literary masterwork, Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum is a political statement for its time. In examining the film, we will consider both its rhetorical and poetic strategies. On the rhetorical level, both the original novel and the film are direct attempts to bring about a reconciliation of Polish-German tensions that emerged with World War II. Both analyze fascism and its relation to class issues. On the poetic level, the central, freakish character of Oskar Matzerath is a metaphoric figure whose meaning in both novel and film constantly shifts as the narrative progresses. In adapting Grass's novel to the screen, Schlöndorff finds cinema-specific ways to express Grass's ideas, feelings, and attitudes, all of which the novelist had articulated through words alone. Schlöndorff presents differing points of view; renders grotesque the novel's main character; allusively cites other movies, literary genres, and cultural points of reference; and employs cinematic leitmotifs that both echo and elaborate on the literary motifs in the novel. Finally, we consider Schlöndorff's filmic reworking of The Tin Drum as an updating to the 1970s, one that extends forward Grass's critique of the 1950s generation to include a parallel appraisal of the disenchanted post-1968 generation.

Let us first, however, summarize the narrative strands of Schlöndorff's Central European epic. The Tin Drum is a story as highly specific to the East

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