Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marching to the Beat: The Tin Drum TOERIFC's February Selection


Oskar Matzerath is a phantom. From the age of three until his presumed father dies, he lives his life in the third person. He refers to himself as "Oskar" rather than "I" or "me" and his life parallels this grammatical conceit. Having forcibly stunted his own growth at the age of three he has chosen to see the world through the eyes of a child, not having to face the responsibilities of adulthood. It is a plan doomed to failure as physical growth does nothing to halt his intellectual or emotional growth. By the time he has seen his father die, shot to death by Russians at the end of the European hostilities in World War II, he is ready to grow again but by now it's too late. The damage is done.

There has been so much written about The Tin Drum, the novel and the film and about its author Günter Grass that I find myself challenged in writing this post. Because the story is told using elements of magical realism, fable and allegory many readers and viewers feel the need to assemble a map and legend with which to navigate the story. At each proper highway marker the proper symbol is assigned and the characters are relegated to meaninglessness outside of their historical or moral representation. For me, an allegory only works if it works on its own as a story first.

When I watched Pan's Labyrinth and No Country for Old Men for the first time upon their release I was aware that both stories could be interpreted any number of ways and that even the reality of certain characters was in question and most certainly almost all of the characters in both movies could easily stand in as symbols for ideas taking them beyond the literal. But I also knew that both movies worked as straightforward stories as well. If one chose to take them literally, at face value, one would still have a well-told story presented to them. Is the same true of The Tin Drum? In the opinion of this viewer, yes and no. Yes, it does tell a story but without the allegory, the story is too episodic, too much without momentum or clear meaning. Approaching this story literally will leave some viewers cold. And confused. Let's start at the beginning.

The Tin Drum is directed by Volker Schlöndorff with a confident and bold visual style throughout. He captures and uses the piercing gaze of David Bennent as Oskar to great effect, most notably in his first appearance, in the womb of his mother. The shot of Oskar in the womb as the fully developed boy-man we will see throughout the film is a brilliant visual touch that immediately signals an other worldliness about the character of Oskar.



Schlöndorff then brings him into the world using a P.O.V. shot (point of view) of Oskar emerging in the delivery room and pondering his surroundings. Overhearing his mother state that he will receive a tin drum on his third birthday is the only thing that keeps him from immediately retreating back to the womb. Well almost the only thing. They have also cut the umbilical chord.

On his third birthday he does indeed receive his tin drum and watching the bickering hypocritical world of adults around him decides he will stop growing at once. He hurtles himself down the cellar steps and never grows again. Physically, that is. Intellectually he progresses just like anyone else. He also discovers when threatened with the loss of his beloved drum that his scream can shatter glass. And all of this takes place in post World War I Germany as that country and the world hears the ever growing drumbeat of Nazism, a call to arms that make its intentions clear on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9, 1938. In fact, it is shortly after we see Oskar, with his friends, drumming and marching, breaking glass in public for the first time (Oskar shatters a street lamp) that we the Nazis literally come around the corner, also drumming, also marching.

After this the story does not provide the literal viewer with much more than a general coming of age tale set during wartime. Oskar reaches puberty and engages in oral sex with his first love. As he grows older still he leaves home to tour with a group of performing Little People who entertain the Nazi troops on the front lines. There he meets his second love and on the shores of Normandy watches her die in a hail of fire and smoke. He returns home, believes his first love's son is his own (and it may well be as he and his father have both made love to her) and gives him a tin drum for his third birthday. He would like his son, Kurt, to stop growing too but Kurt does not. Eventually the war is lost, he sees his father killed, suffers a brain injury and is carted off (again literally) to a sanitarium. The end.



One persistent problem of the film is that it appears to assume one has read the book. In the novel, Oskar narrates from the sanitarium as he writes his memoirs. By the end of his story he has feigned insanity to enter the asylum, once again avoiding the hard choices of life. In the movie, most viewers unfamiliar with the book will not even know he is going to a sanitarium at the end, or that he hasn't really suffered any neurological damage. I have no problem with characters being left out, that is understandable in any adaptation of a lengthy novel but why Schlöndorff chose to make the location of Oskar's narration unknown is a mystery. It certainly would have made the ending clearer.

Schlöndorff also seems unsure if he wants to approach the allegory as a comedic fable or a serious one. While it's true the book contains many absurdities and elements of magical realism not present in the film (in the book, for example, the Germans go to underground cafes that serve large cut onions, which force them to cry, since they are too shell shocked to release emotion on their own) it employs the language of film unavailable to the book. Some scenes are run at a faster frames-per-second rate to emulate a silent film, or more specifically, silent comedy. And Schlöndorff uses vibrant colors and brightly lit scenes throughout, betraying any sense of impending doom. Even during the death of Oskar's second love in Normandy, the sun is shining and the environment inviting. Going for a cup of coffee doesn't seem that crazy after all.



In a way, Schlöndorff has such a good eye for visual set-ups that the movie's realism, which he favored over it's fantastical elements and says so in the commentary track, becomes secondary to the paintings he wants to put before our eyes. But those paintings do live long in the mind: The horse head on the beach with the eels running out of it. Oskar in the womb. Bebra's performing troupe having a picnic on top of a pillbox on the shores of Normandy. Oskar's mother consuming raw fish until it kills her. Visually, Schlöndorff has produced a striking film. Narratively, he has produced a muddle.

But all of this makes it sound as if I do not like the film and nothing could be further from the truth. I found The Tin Drum to be quite captivating at times. It's true, I would've preferred a richer narrative than the episodic fleeting moments the viewer is presented with and do believe it works better for a viewer familiar with the book, but it's images and characters pulled me in and kept me engaged. While I feel it works best as an allegory, I don't believe the allegory is so blunt as to keep the movie from working on its own. One could take the story of Oskar as literal, a boy refusing to grow up and engage in the complicated paradigms of the adult world or one could take it as an allegory for the German people ignoring reality around them (they chose to stop growing, i.e., make adult decisions and choices) until after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed at which time they needed to start growing again. That's the basic idea put forth by the author Günter Grass with the novel and he spent decades hammering the point home in public speeches, interviews and lectures. The German people had stunted their growth, refused to take part in the adult world of taking responsible action and a madman and his band of thugs sent millions to their deaths as a result. Grass did not hold back from demanding there be shame, remorse and accounting.



Then in 2006 it was revealed he had been a conscripted member of the Waffen-SS. Worse than that, though less reported, he had tried to volunteer for U-Boat duty at the age of 15. The conscription into the Waffen-SS could be written off since he had no choice in the matter, but eager to volunteer at fifteen? That couldn't be written off so easily. Many, including Christopher Hitchens, called him a hypocrite and a fraud while others, like writer John Irving, hailed him as a hero.

As with all things the truth lies somewhere in between. Had Grass revealed the truth of his past from the beginning he would have had, to my mind, an even higher moral authority from which to speak. He could demand accounting and remorse because he had been a part of it and by revealing his involvement had fully accounted and taken responsibilities for his actions. But he didn't. He kept it a secret until 2006, until after the Nobel Prize, until almost fifty years after the publication of the novel. Still, as John Irving asks, why should that invalidate the ideas put forth in the novel? If someone preaches against the horrors of slavery and is then discovered to have once been a slave owner, does that invalidate what they said about slavery? It may make them appear hypocritical, but it certainly doesn't invalidate their view that slavery is wrong.



And this is just one more roadblock to a full appreciation of the book and movie. The movie has become infamous due to Grass' conscription and obscenity charges levelled against it in Oklahoma, something I don't care to discuss but felt I should mention it to make a point. These things have become The Tin Drum as much as the story itself. Audiences now view it through the filter of a once conscripted hypocrite or the accusations of child pornography. Presenting its story in allegorical form complicates matters more. Is the average modern viewer (no one here included) knowledgeable enough about the Treaty of Versailles and the conditions forced on Germany after World War I to understand the tension that slowly mounted around the Polish Post Office in Danzig? Are they aware of the accusations of complicity levelled against the German people in the rise of Adolph Hitler that Oskar's refusal to grow up stands in for as a metaphor? What about Oskar's ability to affect change as he disrupts the Nazi rally and turns it into a waltz? After he realizes he can affect change if he tries, he abandons any notions of doing so and instead begins entertaining the troops. He could have done something, but didn't. What about the Jewish toymaker? What are Grass and Schlöndorff going for with his death? Does he stand in for all the Jews slaughtered? Is being killed in his office irony? Was supplying the drums to Oskar intended to be another ironic statement on the perceptions of Anti-Semites that the Jews of Germany passively enabled the Nazis? Finally, does Oskar have any remorse? Does he learn anything? He loses his true love and soon after is smiling as he brings a tin drum to his son, blissfully encouraging the same avoidance of life in his son that has brought him heartache and confusion.



There are no definite answers to any of those questions and as long as people examine history in an effort to understand it there never will be. It's all interpretation. It's all reflection. Meaning is obscured by more recent events. Facts are obscured by interpretation. In the end the drumbeat of history continues unabated, indifferent to our allegories and parables and road maps. The Tin Drum tries to make sense of World War II, Nazism and the Holocaust by presenting its tale through the eyes of a disaffected narrator at odds with the society around him. It may succeed in this, it may not. Or it may be marching to the beat of a drum that only it can hear.

235 comments:

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Pat said...

"The Tin Drum" was kind of a mixed bag for me, for all the reasons you expound on here.

I found it very compelling, but the mixed tones of comedy and tragedy felt like a uneasy mix to me. I have to admit that I was never quite sure what the allegorical implications were meant to be; Oskar's refusal to grow up didn't seem to be presented as all bad, since the adults around were, in fact, duplicitous and sometimes ridiculous (the whoe sequence with the eels comes to mind), and Oskar's moral outrage not all that out of line.

And not to go off on a whole tangent here, but the young actor who played Oskar creeeped me out. As I understand it, he was 11 when the film was made, but was preternaturally small (about the stature of an average 6 year old). I read somewhere that Schlondorff said if they hadn't found him, they would never have been able to make the film. But I didn't learn that till after seeing the film - while watching, I was always kind of bothered that I couldn't ascertain how old the actor actually was, and felt uncomfortable that an actual child might be in some of those scenes. I found it hard to get past that.

FilmDr said...

Nice analysis. I agree with many of your points, but I tend to view the film as one long indictment of adult-behavior from the eyes of a child. Oskar's cool gaze implicitly judges everyone, and I think at least initially the film invites the viewer to identify with Oskar until one realizes that he is in part or directly responsible for the deaths of his two possible fathers, and implicated in that of his mother (as he points out in the voiceover). So what is he then--some sort of historical judgment? The film's sardonic treatment of the adults chiefly makes it interesting, but, after watching the movie again, I was struck by the gruesome images--of the eels especially, the urine soup, the vomiting--that works as counterpoint to the religious images of Madonna and Child and the view from the belfry of a church. As you say, the narrative may have its loose ends, but the images linger on in the brain long after one sees the movie. I also like the way Tom Tykwer adapted the glass breaking idea in Run Lola Run.

Marilyn said...

Jonathan - I do think this film is a muddle. If I hadn't read half the book (lost interest after a while), I certainly would not have known what to make of it. Put in modern terms, it's rathr like The Royal Tenebaums or any of the other quirky family movies, laced with the seriousness of the times through with Oskar lived.

These people don't work well as symbols for me because they are both very individual and far from fully developed. Oskar, so brilliantly realized by David Bennent, remains a self-centered child throughout his life. As a metaphor for Germany, he may stand in for the illusory superego that makes a child feel all-powerful in its essentially powerless state, as Germany was after WWI. His glass-breaking abilities aren't real (if you get literal about this story), but the Nazis did realize great power and a vast ability to destroy.

Germany may have reverted to a Lord of the Flies primitivism, but it wasn't a naive or young country even then, not as America was during its "loss of innocence" over the Vietnam War.

As for Grass' concealment of his culpability, he was afflicted along with his countryman with a self-pitying deniability. As late as 20 years ago, I had a German woman hit me with how her poor father suffered in the army without the pty of the world reaching out to him. Grass was a German first, in my opinion.

bill r. said...

I'm with Pat here. I know enough about the history of WWII and post WWI Germany (not as much as you, Jonathan, but enough for this film), and the allegorical implications still didn't ring out very strongly for me. This could in part be my fault, but to be honest the film as a film never really connected. Yes, it was extremely well made, but the whole thing felt like the 1979 German equivelant of Oscar bait. It's like, this is was the big book in Germany, this was Revolutionary Road, so, even though its quite un-Hollywood in numerous ways, Schlondorff and the producers wanted this to be their big, prestige Hollywood film. In the commentary track, Schlondorff talks about how he initially envisioned a midget in the role of Oskar, and thought "Well, no one can possibly identify with a midget, so the book is unfilmable." That is bonehead Hollywood thinking if I've ever heard it. Even if a midget would have been physically correct for the role, he was still ridiculously off-base in his thinking. He needed Grass to steer him in the right direction.

Having said all that, I thought David Bennett was extraordinary. His narration -- you're right, Jonathan, I had no idea where that narration was coming from -- was so intense as to be almost demonic. The line about the gullible people believing in Santa Claus, who turned out to be "the gas-man!" gave me chills.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Pat - I wasn't bothered by an eleven year old being involved in those scenes. The brief cunnilingus moment is viewed from behind because David Bennent wasn't actually engaging in oral sex and when they are making love he is completely under the covers and nothing is really happening. I know what you mean of course but it didn't bother me.

But yes, he is a creepy and striking presence. As Bill said, he is extraordinary in the role. I thought his piercing stare and shrill narration were hypnotic at times.

Jonathan Lapper said...

FilmDr, my question is, if taken outside of allegory, what is the indictment of adult behavior? Oskar is selfish, curious, amorous, loving, hating, etc. Everything that makes up the adults he sees. So how is stopping growing an indictment of that since he goes about engaging in the same behavior he objects to?

bill r. said...

I must say, regarding Bennett and the sex scenes: I know nothing was going on, and I know Schlondorff did nothing illegal...but I was still bothered by it. Maybe I was supposed to be, I don't know.

Flickhead said...

Give me some time to weigh in -- I'm printing out your critique to read... the white type on dark brown background is making me woozy!

Pat said...

I won't deny that Bennent is fantastic - his "creepiness" works for the role. And I'm with Bill that line about Santa really being the gas man is chilling.

(And can I just chime in with a little nonsense here and say that Roswitha's death scene actually made me laugh out loud, but in a really dark, sick, self-mocking way. I'm the biggest caffeine addict I know; I often say the most dangerous place in the world at 6 am is between me and a coffee pot. I would SO be Roswitha in that scene. No amount of enemy bombs could keep me away from my morning joe!)

Jonathan Lapper said...

As for Grass' concealment of his culpability, he was afflicted along with his countryman with a self-pitying deniability. As late as 20 years ago, I had a German woman hit me with how her poor father suffered in the army without the pty of the world reaching out to him. Grass was a German first, in my opinion.

A statement like "Grass was a German first" implies that he was in denial of the wrongs of the past but he clearly wasn't. He kept hammering them home. Thus, I gather what you're saying is he was beating the drum (sorry) of righteous indignation over what Germany had done to, in a way, make the citizens of Germany like himself seem more sympathetic. As in, "Oh look what we have to bear."

You may have a point with that. I watched a documentary with my wife about three years ago about the fall of Berlin and frankly we became furious. I don't remember the name of it or who did it but it kept focusing on German citizens telling of the horrible hardships that befell them when the Russians entered the city.

I don't doubt that. Seeing and hearing what the Russians did was sickening in some cases. I'm not condoning it even as a measure of revenge. But when the camera sat silent while a German woman cried that her sick father had died in a bed without any sheets on it my wife lost it. She has friends and relatives through her first marriage who survived the Holocaust. This family, that I know as well, saw six of its members killed, two at Auschwitz. When that woman started crying about the bed with no sheets we both started yelling things like "fuck you, millions were killed or died riddled with disease, cold and wet in the dark! So sorry there weren't any fucking sheets on your bed!"

Anyway, it was infuriating. The people interviewed seemed much more interested in receiving pity than acknowledging what had happened.

Rick said...

Fascinating writeup, Jonathan, and discussion, everyone. I'll have more to say when I get off this damned blackberry.

Jonathan Lapper said...

the allegorical implications still didn't ring out very strongly for me.

I think that's a problem with the film. You know how Schlöndorff says he took out fantastical elements like the nuns flying because it detracted from the reality? Well that's the problem. The book has those elements and it's very clear that it's an allegory. The movie muddles the issue by watering everything down.

Imagine filming The Little Prince and removing the fantastical elements (a planet so small you can walk around it in minutes, foxes that talk, etc) because they detract from the realism. Well then what in the hell is the point in filming it in the first place?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Pat, I thought the coffee scene was kind of funny too, and not because I'm a caffeine addict. I thought, "what the hell was that?" Again it felt like Schlöndorff wanted to keep elements of absurdity from the novel but film them in a realistic fashion made them just seem odd and not very informative of anything.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Flickhead, is that always a problem? Does anyone else have trouble reading my posts?

bill r. said...

I watched a documentary with my wife about three years ago about the fall of Berlin and frankly we became furious.

Yeah, and there's an element of that in the film, too, when the Russians try to rape his grandmother. I'm not saying that sort of thing didn't happen - of course it did - but (leaving aside my own more Old Testament views on this) why are Grass and Schlondorff able to find the time in the story for that, and the nightmarish horror that was inflicted on the Jews has to be only alluded to, or metaphorized (if that's even a word)? Cry me a river.

Marilyn said...

No problem here, Jonathan.

I sometimes wonder whether most collaborators of any stripe really see the error of their ways or whether they see the tide of history or popular sentiment turning against them and decide to go with the flow. Arianna Huffington was a bellicose conservative before she divorced her Republican husband.

I'm not saying Grass didn't genuinely see the error of his ways, but we have these self-protective shields that let us cal out faults in others while somehow denying them in ourselves.

It's interesteing, but I watched Billy Liar yesterday. It, too, deals with a boy-man who refuses to grow up because he wants to keep his options open and remain free to do as he wishes while someone else takes care of him--all while wrecking crews are tearing down old buildings to create "new towns". Refusing to grow up can also be a way of refusing to abandon the past. How does this work with Oskar?

Pat said...

Jonathan -

Yeah, there are a lot of little, almost throwaway scenes like that throughout the film (I'm also thinking of the early scene of Oskar's grandfather in his Chicago office, selling both matches and fire insurance) that just seem to be there for moment's fun and don't really connect to anything else in the narrative. That bugged me a bit.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Yeah, and there's an element of that in the film, too, when the Russians try to rape his grandmother.

Here's what struck me about that scene. One - The father is seen sympathetically leading up to that scene, when he burns Hitler's photo and replaces Beethoven's and Two - when the Russians enter the film clearly wants us to be fearful that the Russians will realize he was a Nazi. So just because he gave up on being a Nazi (ONLY BECAUSE THEY LOST, MIND YOU) we should feel sorry for him and forgive all.

And three - One of the things that Hitler and his psychotic thugs pointed out with the Russians in their dialogues and hateful speeches was their "Asiatic bloodlines" to imply their inferiority to the white master race. In the film, Schlondorff chose an actor so Asian in appearance that he could have easily been mistaken for Chinese. So I couldn't help but wonder, does Schlondorff feel the same way about Russians? Is that why he found a very Asian looking actor to portray the Russian soldier? Frankly, and I may be reading it all wrong, I found all of that made the scene a bit uneasy for me.

Marilyn said...

I liked the Siberian Russian. I've seen more films recently featuring Asiatic Russians, and I think it's a reality worth showing.

bill r. said...

In the film, Schlondorff chose an actor so Asian in appearance that he could have easily been mistaken for Chinese.

Yes, that was very strange. I guess he was supposed to be Mongolian, but why choose him to be, essentially, the face of the Russian army? I admit I hadn't made the connection you did -- I was simply confused -- but you make a good point.

The more I think about it, and the more points regarding this that are brought up in these comments, the more I think as an absurdist, magic realism story, the film was really a failure. Pat mentions those early scenes with the grandfather in Chicago as seeming to come from some other movie, and she's right: in the context of this film, what the hell was that about? That washed-out style of filming scenes, and that particular kind of picaresque flashback, and that kind of satire, never appear again in the rest of the film. It has no bearing on anything else. If the film was littered with that sort of thing (and I imagine the book is. Is it?) then that would be one thing, but as the only example in a two and a half hour film, it just plays wrong. Why leave that in and cut out so much of the magic realism that comes later, and which I have a feeling was more to Grass's point?

Having not read the book, it's hard for me to make a strong argument, but the whole time I was watching the film, I felt like something was off that I couldn't quite put my finger on, and I think this was it.

bill r. said...

I haven't read all of John Irving's defense of Grass yet, and I'm not saying I think Grass should be strung up, but I did just read this line:

I do not judge what 17-year-olds volunteer for - short of premeditated rape and murder.

Which army in which war does Irving think he's talking about? Does he think German citizens were oblivious? When Grass was 17, the year was 1944. That's pretty late in the game to volunteer and claim you had no idea what was really happening.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I liked the Siberian Russian. I've seen more films recently featuring Asiatic Russians, and I think it's a reality worth showing.

I don't say it's a reality not worth showing but with Schlondorf choosing the Siberian Russian as the face of the Russian army I just wonder if he did so because he too, like the Nazis, sees them as "other" and subconsciously emphasized it.

Bill, the book plays much more to absurdity and magical realism throughout. It was released in 1959 and I can't figure out if Grass wrote it that way to make a point or if he felt writing a story about Germany before, during and after the war in realistic and brutal terms only fourteen years later would be unacceptable to most people.

Rick Olson said...

I have no problem viewing this as an allegory; I was tipped the moment Oskar stopped his own growth. That in itself is magical-realist; it's something that generally doesn't happen, no matter how many stairs one falls down.

For me, that scene creates a hinge-point: by throwing himself down those stairs, he puts a monkey-wrench into the family. His mother cannot quit reminding Matzerath about the fact that he left the cellar door open. It's quite clear that Oskar relishes that division.

That raises the question: is Oskar to be seen as provocateur and creator of his own situation, just a little bit, or only as an observer? He tells the clown from the circus that he prefers to be "in the audience," perhaps a clear reference to the german peoples' profession of innocence, we were only onlookers. But in fact, he becomes a participant in ways both obvious -- entertaining the troops -- and not so obvious, as a provocateur within his own family system.

Because it's also clear that the family itself is an allegory; Polish lover, German father; Oskar creates tension within the family by his refusal to "grow up."

I don't see that he changes a whole hell of a lot over the course of the film; in some ways -- as you put it, Jonathan -- his intellectual and emotional growth changes ... his libido grows up, but he never really starts looking at life from a set of adult precepts, in my view.

And a note about magical realism: it is in my opinion quite hard to pull off. It requires a balance between the real and the magical, as the name implies. Most filmmakers signal what's magical by music, camerawork, etc., but to successfully pull magical realism off, you have to film it as just part of the narrative, and get the viewer wondering -- if even upon reflection -- what was real or not. Perhaps Mike Nichols pulled it off as well as any in "Angels in America."

Fox said...

Hello everyone!

[I haven't read any comments yet, so forgive repeated points/thoughts...]

The first thing I'd like to say about this film is that I didn't care about the book. I don't mean that in a dismissive way, I just meant that when I watched this movie, anything concerning the book went out the window. (NOTE: I haven't read the book)

Because I went in naked, the theme that stood out the most for me was the one of "returning to the womb", and I found it fascinating how this fantasy of Oskar's continued to pop up:

* He's envys Jan's foot going between his mother's legs under the table.

* He tries to go under his grandmother's dress.

* He hides in the "womb-like" closet while watching Jan finger Agnes (he appears jealous of Jan here.)

* He screams and breaks the glass of the embryo in a jar as if he disapproves, or, is (again) jealous.

* He plants his face in Maria's bush when she takes her pants off.

And...

Most beautifully to me, is when, during the transition of Oskar from newborn to 3-year old, his drumbeat mimics the heartbeat of his mother that we hear while he is still in utero. To me, one of the many meanings of his drumbeats is that he is carrying the comforting heartbeat of his mother with him whereever he travels.

Flickhead said...

My reasons for printing out your article in clear, crisp black and white are undoubtedly linked to age issues on my end.

I like your piece and see your points. Never having read the book, I took the film as allegory -- Germany opting to stunt its own growth in the face of Nazism, drumming away in blind obedience -- though I don't agree with you when you say Oskar's wish to remain small "does nothing to halt his intellectual or emotional growth." I believe he's essentially immature throughout.

The "cunnilingus scene" was a highpoint -- the wizened child confronted by "home," the place he considered crawling back into when he was born.

When the film came out, Fellini was still famous and popular among cinephiles and earthlings alike. The Tin Drum was surely called "Felliniesque" in its day, and for good reason. Although he lacks the Mediterranean eroticism of Fellini, Schlondorff still sees the world in terms of family, sex and idealism struggling under autocratic rule.

Marilyn said...

John Irving's a showboat who had only one book in him and keeps writing it over and over. Why wouldn't he be sympathetic to a 17-year-old? He seems stuck at that age himself.

Schlöndorff may have his myopic moments, so you may be right. I also think Grass may have been elliptical for the very reasons you mention, Jonathan. But I see this selective vision, this tiptoeing around the German sensibility to be a huge flaw in that country's cuture. People couldn't see how the nation of Schiller and Schubert could become what they became. It's this denial of their base instincts - something Freud almost heretically started to point out - that has led to tragedy time and again.

I think the film is, as you point out, visually arresting and true to the book - I thought the horse/eel scene could not have been bettered. But it doesn't really grapple with what Grass says he wanted to grapple with. Oskar's destructiveness - of himself, his drums, grass, his relatives - all gets hidden under Grandma's skirts, the protecting motherland four layers thick.

Rick Olson said...

By the way, Flickhead has a point:
the light brown comments on the main page are almost unreadable for me, that's why I read them on the "post a comment" page whether I intend to or not.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Rick, here's my take on allegory. First of all, I like allegory as a way of adding another level of meaning to a story. That is to say, I can take the story at face value or as an allegory. It's an extra layer available to me should I choose to go that route. But for me allegory works best when dealing with universal truths such as love, hate, greed, justice and so on. When an allegory attempts to extract meaning by representing specific times and places in history, such as Germany leading up to and including World War II, then it is pointless unless the viewer knows the subject matter.

And if the viewer knows the subject matter, why not just present it in a straightforward manner so everyone can appreciate it?

If one doesn't know the history of World War II, and I'm sure many don't, then the allegory of this story is lost meaning they're left with random episodes stitched together about a boy who doesn't grow.

Now then, knowing the history as we all do, what does the Jewish toymaker represent? I ask here, and I asked in the post, because I really am a bit confused on that point. Are the Jews supposed to be represented as happy toymakers who brought joy to children or something? For an allegory about Germany and the Holocaust, I found the one Jewish character to the least drawn of all.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bill, it does seem odd that Irving excuses volunteering for the Nazi army as if Grass were volunteering for the Canadian Coast Guard. It was the Nazis for God's sake. After 1938's Kristallnacht, no one could pretend any longer to not know what the stakes were.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Rick, now I'm worried. Does anyone else have a problem reading my blog? Marilyn said no, Flickhead and Rick say yes.

Anyone else?

Flickhead said...

Jonathan, your blog reads fine. With longer pieces like today's, I personally can't read white type on a dark background on a computer screen for a prolonged period of time -- I start seeing double. It's not the blog, it's me.

Marilyn said...

I think the Jewish toymaker, from an allegorical point of view, could be looked at as innocence. He's a man who tries to mourn Agnes' death and returns to the graveside after being beaten to finish his prayers for her. This seems a bit of a cheat to me in two ways. First, It's not clear he knew Agnes well enough to attend her funeral, though it's possible. Second, Is Markus supposed to absolving the Germany of the past by saying Kaddish for it? Agnes gave birth to this monster of uncertain parentage (maybe Oskar's really Polish and therefore an abmoniation in the eyes of the Aryan nation).

Jonathan Lapper said...

But it doesn't really grapple with what Grass says he wanted to grapple with. Oskar's destructiveness - of himself, his drums, grass, his relatives - all gets hidden under Grandma's skirts, the protecting motherland four layers thick.

Marilyn, they left out many of the book's more damning condemnations of Oskar such as his breaking glass to steal things. He is more likable in the movie than in the book and in the movie you don't exactly fall in love with him.

And what about the scene where Oskar raises the scissors to Maria's pregnant belly? He loves the idea of having a son whose growth he can stunt so the almost random addition of a brief homicidal scene never returned to seemed out of place.

Rick Olson said...

Good points all, Jonathan. Indeed, allegory works only if everybody can see the ground (the history) in the figure (the story).

This inability to know the historical roots of an allegory bedevils (pardon the ... pun) biblical interpretation, as well. Taking an allegory literally -- as in not getting the historical context of the the ground -- has led to all kinds of damaging literalism and inerrantism.

Fox said...

Jonathan-

Perhaps in the allegory, the Jewish toymaker represents another arm pulling on Agnes ("native Germany") along with Jan (a Pole) and Alfred (German).

I kind of found the way he courts Agnes to be a little unclear and mildly creepy. He woes her with "toys" of her own when he gives her pantie hoes in the same breath of keeping her child happy with the drum.

Does he kill himself b/c of the cleansing the Germans are doing? Or, did he kill himself b/c Agnes is now dead as well?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, his rush towards Maria is a great moment of, as Flickhead said, a recognition of home, of where he has longed to return. Is he rushing to perform cunnilingus or does he actually believe he can escape back inside if he rushes it fast enough?

And the scene of the fetus Oskar in the womb was freakishly jarring to me. I rewound and watched it a good four or five times.

Rick Olson said...

And I can read white on black ok, but not the light brown on black of the single-post comments. I come to the posts from my feed-reader, and get the single-post pages.

Perhaps Markus is not an allegory at all ... perhaps he's meant to be a real, or a symbol, a stand-in, for the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I don't agree with you when you say Oskar's wish to remain small "does nothing to halt his intellectual or emotional growth." I believe he's essentially immature throughout.

Flickhead, I see him as selfish as a child but then as he grows older he is more willing to give. For instance, his relationship with Roswitha seems adult to me. He loves her, treats her well, etc. As he grows older the drum is more of a prop, straddled across his shoulder but no longer being drummed at and he no longer shrieks when he doesn't get his way. Little touches to be sure but I think they signal he has grown.

And off topic, apart from the narration, it was quite effective to me how little Oskar spoke. He was there, but rarely was he fully engaged.

Fox said...

Marilyn said:

But it doesn't really grapple with what Grass says he wanted to grapple with. Oskar's destructiveness - of himself, his drums, grass, his relatives - all gets hidden under Grandma's skirts, the protecting motherland four layers thick.

And Lapper said:

Marilyn, they left out many of the book's more damning condemnations of Oskar such as his breaking glass to steal things. He is more likable in the movie than in the book and in the movie you don't exactly fall in love with him.

Is it possible that some of us film clubbers have trouble watching The Tin Drum b/c of a blind spot brought upon by the book?

That is valid, of course, but I'm starting to see this as another time (like the Revolutionary Road debates) when people keep refrencing the book as a way to dissect the movie. I think that can be a bit unfair to the movie.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I come to the posts from my feed-reader, and get the single-post pages.

Oh, I know what you're talking about now. When you click on the permalink you get the comments below the post in light brown. I gotcha. I'll have to see if I can change that.

Marilyn said...

I don't think there was a moment when reading or watching The Tin Drum where I felt any liking for Oskar. Certainly in the film, his knowing, sidelong looks show him lacking innocence. Perhaps the one act I thought was truly childlike was when he put his drumsticks in Baby Jesus' hands. This was a oment of grace and empathy that would not come again. His "grief" at the loss of Markus was to do with his supply of drums.

Flickhead said...

...his rush towards Maria is a great moment of, as Flickhead said, a recognition of home, of where he has longed to return. Is he rushing to perform cunnilingus or does he actually believe he can escape back inside if he rushes it fast enough?

Is there really any other place on earth that holds such promise of security, warmth and comfort for Oskar?

Jonathan Lapper said...

(maybe Oskar's really Polish and therefore an abmoniation in the eyes of the Aryan nation).

Of course, Oskar is already an abomination because he's a dwarf. German or not, the Nazis would have had him exterminated or shipped off for experiments. That they don't is, I suppose, another signal that this is magical realism.

Flickhead said...

Off topic: is this where Run, Lola, Run got its glass-breaking scream from?

Jonathan Lapper said...

His "grief" at the loss of Markus was to do with his supply of drums.

I noticed in that scene how chilling it was, and I think clearly intentional, that when we see the store being ransacked we notice Oskar look not for Markus but up on the top shelf at the drums. That is his first concern.

bill r. said...

Jonathan - I can read your blog fine.

Now I have to go catch up on all these comments. Sheesh!

Fox said...

Is he rushing to perform cunnilingus or does he actually believe he can escape back inside if he rushes it fast enough?

I think it's the latter, but I think Maria is expecting the former. He head tilts back a bit as if expecting the pleasure, but then she kind of looks down and asks "what are you doing?".

And the scene of the fetus Oskar in the womb was freakishly jarring to me. I rewound and watched it a good four or five times.

Agreed. I felt the same way about oskar in the pan next to the bed as they were washing him. It's Bennet with bags under his eyes, hair combed forward, fingers in his mouth like an infant. That was another stirring image for me.

But I think the image that really kicked me in the face (and that I watched twice) was the horse head fishing scene. HOLY CRAP! The eels coming out it's ear!!?? I had a physical reaction to that. Not vomitous, just like I was yanked by the movie.

And then Oskar beats his drum in a kind of military salute in front of the whole spectacle while behind him his mother barfs. This was one of the moments where Oskar seems most honored to be who he was and where he was and he is proud to beat on that drum. He stands as upright as his little body will let him and taps away.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Is it possible that some of us film clubbers have trouble watching The Tin Drum b/c of a blind spot brought upon by the book?

Fox, I don't think you need to have read the book and maybe I shouldn't be bringing it up. I believe the film stands on its own it's just that I thought it might be interesting to point out differences where they occur.

I think when the book was written (1959) and when the film was made (1979) explains most of the differences. The film was playing to a more modern tendency towards realism.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Off topic: is this where Run, Lola, Run got its glass-breaking scream from?

Don't forget those old Ella Fitzgerald commercials from the seventies where she would break the glass. Of course that was well after the book (1959) so I guess, yes, that's where Lola got it from. But I don't know for sure.

Fox said...

Perhaps the one act I thought was truly childlike was when he put his drumsticks in Baby Jesus' hands. This was a oment of grace and empathy that would not come again.

Marilyn. That's interesting. I read it in a completely different way. I felt that he had contempt for Jesus, that he was mocking his in ability to not play the drums since "he can do everything else". Then he slaps the baby Jesus!

kassy said...

I hadn't read the book or heard anything about the film except what Jonathan posted on the TOERIFC page so I too went into this blind. At first the scenes with the Grandma in the potato field and the grandfather in Chicago made me think this was going to be a comedy. And I do still think there are definite satirical overtones, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the film.

If I don't think about it too hard, it comes across as an interesting little fantasy about a boy who doesn't admire the behavior of adults, tries not to grow up and only succeeds in not growing bigger. Eventually he realizes he has become an adult in spite of himself and decides to start growing. If I look at it as simply as that, the film works well for me.

But then I start trying to think about what the film is trying to say allegorically and that's where it doesn't work as well. Because Oskar failed at not growing, he eventually exhibited behaviors on par with the adults despite his size, so I'm not sure what the point was of his not growing. And why stop growing when the children around you weren't behaving that nicely either, that soup was gross! I'm also wondering if you took the basic story of Oskar out of Nazi Germany and plopped it somewhere like Paris in the 1920's would Oskar have felt the same about the adult world? I can tell that the film was meant to say something, but I'm not sure its coming across very clearly.

(Oh how I wish I wasn't at work typing this so I could be more coherent)

Is part of the problem with the allegory the fact that Oskar is so selfish and such a provocateur, as Rick says, that I was never able to sympathize with him? Perhaps he was simply mirroring the behavior being modeled for him, but being complicit in at least three deaths makes it hard to see his point in not growing.

I think I'm merely echoing what everyone else is saying, so I'll stop now. But I want to finish on a positive note, the movie was interesting to watch and I did like it, the imagery was quite striking, and David Bennett was amazing. Thanks Jonathan!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I think it's the latter, but I think Maria is expecting the former. He head tilts back a bit as if expecting the pleasure, but then she kind of looks down and asks "what are you doing?".

Fox, I think you're exactly right! That's what I thought. She is expecting ecstasy and instead this little boy is standing there dumbfounded because he can't push his way back inside of her. Which now that I'm thinking about it is making me laugh here at work.

And the eel/horse head scene, which I chose for today's banner, is something to be sure. What does that scene mean to you? What's the point of Agnes eating the eels and then the fish?

Rick Olson said...

He may be child-like, but he's certainly not innocent ... his constant manipulation of his family and his surroundings reminds me of a true child ... that's kind of what they do. Compassion doesn't develop until the teens, with the advent of abstract thought. I never see compassion in Oskar.

Marilyn said...

I thought his impulse was benevolent. He has an instant affinity for his midget mentor. He likes small things that look wise beyond their years. When he realizes the statue isn't capable of action, he gets angry, not before. AGain, I suppose this could be taken as a sign of the impotence of religion.

Rick Olson said...

By the way, though I hate to admit it, I think Fox is right too.

Fox said...

Fox, I don't think you need to have read the book and maybe I shouldn't be bringing it up. I believe the film stands on its own it's just that I thought it might be interesting to point out differences where they occur.

Jonathan-

I hope you didn't take my comment as snarky, b/c it wasn't meant to be.

I think it's totally fine to bring the book up b/c it gets us into the discussion of the line between films and books. For instance, I find it fascinating the way I experienced the movie versus the way you and, say, Marilyn did. We saw similar things, but going into it blind, I think I fixated on the mother issues first and the historical allegory second.

And on Oskar being a dwarf in Nazi Germany, I was thinking the same thing... "why haven't they put him in a camp or eugenics lab yet?" I chalked it up to them not having reached that level of insanity quite yet.

Rick Olson said...

Wait ... now I think Marilyn is right. Oh, I'm so confused ...

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kassy, those are great comments, not incoherent at all.

When you say he "tries not to grow up and only succeeds in not growing bigger. Eventually he realizes he has become an adult in spite of himself and decides to start growing" I couldn't agree more. I think he does grow up so I think his stunted growth is his failure to take the easy way out. What that means necessarily I don't know but that's how I see it.

And bringing up the kids is brilliant. You're right of course, they're monsters too. Why not decide to grow 8 feet tall to separate yourself from both worlds? In the end, I think Grass intends Oskar to be confused, looking for easy outs but continuing to get smacked in the face by reality despite his best efforts.

Marilyn said...

Agnes is pregnant, hence her hunger. She is made sick by the sight of the head riven through with eels, but it probably is just the initiation of her morning sickness. On another level, she has been invaded by an alien body just as the head - the seat of the brain - has been infested with a wormlike conglomeration. If you want to take it a step further, the alien body comes from the sea, the seat of the unconscious. What does Agnes know about her unborn child that we don't?

Rick Olson said...

about the eugenics lab, Fox, I thought that when I saw the dwarf circus player, not Oskar ... I viewed Oskar much more as a damaged child, as an allegory, if you will, rather than a real kid.

Fox said...

He may be child-like, but he's certainly not innocent ... his constant manipulation of his family and his surroundings reminds me of a true child ... that's kind of what they do. Compassion doesn't develop until the teens, with the advent of abstract thought. I never see compassion in Oskar.

Rick-

This is interesting...

Could it be that Oskar really wanted to remain "childlike" as a teenager and adult b/c he wanted the charity and easy-passes that children are generally granted? Did he know he would be able to manipulate the adults by doing this?

B/c he surely shows contempt for the adults right before he decides to take that dive in the cellar to stunt his growth. Again, as Jonathan and Bill have mentioned, he talks about them with that contemptable, evil, puntcuated little voice. (like Bill, I can't get "the GAS-S-S-S maHHn!" out of my head... his voice, his goddam voice in that moment!)

Jonathan Lapper said...

I suppose this could be taken as a sign of the impotence of religion.

She was going to confession so I assume it was a Catholic church and given the controversial actions of the church during World War II I suppose this could have been the symbolism there.

Fox said...

Wait ... now I think Marilyn is right. Oh, I'm so confused ...

(sigh) Marilyn wins them over again.

Marilyn taps her little drum and the blogger boys follow behind! :)

Rick Olson said...

Fox, that certainly is a possibility. Children have to manipulate adults, that's how they get what they need to survive. Evolutionarily, it makes enormous sense; he accomplished so much by that little dive down the stairs: he splits his family down the middle (Pole vs German ... it's hardly coincidental), and derives great benefit from the guilt.

Whether he "knew" this would happen or it was just instinctual, well, I'm not sure ...

Fox said...

Marilyn & Jonathan & ALL-

On Agnes and the fish...

I think Marilyn said some great things in her last comment, but do y'all think she is trying to kill herself/abort the child by gouging on the fish?

Surely that type of force feeding seems to be more than just hunger pangs from being pregnant. Afterall, her mothers says "you know fish doesn't agree with you." Why is it only fish that she eats? When she looks down at that can of sardines and unrolls it it's like she's sliding open a drawer and looking a the cold steel of a pistol.

And what of the moment when she seems to be contemplating gagging herself as she stares down at Oskar? Does she see Oskar and think, "maybe I shouldn't go through with this?"... that's running with the idea (as I am) that she wanted to kill herself.

FilmDr said...

Oskar's decision to not become an adult helps him avoid becoming a Nazi soldier. The film reminds me of various writers, like Wordsworth, who favor the child's perspective, his or her innocence, over the adult perspective. Although, of course, as Oskar ages that bias gets more problematic. His youth does give him the freedom to witness the battle over the post office and get away without getting killed.

As far as the eel symbolism is concerned, I think I read somewhere that Oskar's mother gorge herself on raw fish because she refuses to have another child under the Nazi regime. Or perhaps the eels are symbolic of the parasitic nature of the Nazis destroying the German state (the horse head) from within? I also found myself be reminded of the horse head scene in The Godfather.

bill r. said...

You know, I'm so behind on this, and you guys clearly connected with this movie on a level I never did, but it would seem to me that the horse head/fish scene represents the rotting from the inside, or from the brain down, of the German culture and its people. By choosing suicide by fish-eating, maybe Agnes is trying to speed up for herself the process that Hitler began, through the same means, so that she'll never have to face the worst of it.

bill r. said...

Damn it...FilmDr beat me to it!

Rick Olson said...

I was reminded, when the eel came out of the ear, of the snake coming out of the mouth of the dead guy in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

FilmDr said...

Bill R., you phrased it better.

Has anyone discussed the scene where Jan holds up the Queen of Hearts (I think it was)right before being executed? Doesn't he break frame there and look at the camera? Does that suggest that he's ultimately victorious (in a sense) in his loving relationship with Oskar's mother? I also liked the image of the four playing cards amidst the bombing of the post office, as if the game matters more than any murderous battle going on around them.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Thanks Marilyn, Fox, FilmDr and Bill. I too thought the horsehead was representative of Germany being eaten out from within but despite everyone's theories I still don't fully get why Agnes chose (or perhaps I should say, why Grass chose for her) the gorging on fish as a means of slow and deliberate suicide.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Does that suggest that he's ultimately victorious (in a sense) in his loving relationship with Oskar's mother?

I suppose so although I hadn't thought about that part much yet. I think it's clear, or intended to be at least, that Jan is the father, not Alfred.

Fox said...

And Rick-

Another good moment of his contempt for the adults is in one of the stills Jonathan posted of Oskar in a sailors outfit.

His little head pops up over the ledge and he's leering at them so bitterly. Love that scene.

You know... this is making think about Oskar a lot. Do I think he's despicable, or not?

He certainly does manipulative things, but then there are moments where he "seems" to be defiant against the Nazis. (or is he just a timid bystander?)

EXAMPLE: At the foregrounds where the Nazis are having a rally, Oskar plays a beat counter to the beats the Hitler youth are playing. When I first saw this scene I thought for sure that that was Oskar's way of being a dissident, but on second viewing, I don't think that at all. The trouble is... I'm not sure what I think of his actions in that scene. Was he actually trying to fit in???

Cuz then Schlondorff cuts to a shot of a trumpet player playing off the melody, and it kinda turns into a farce of a scene with a Nazi stomping his feet in the middle of the rain.

I guess this plays into the point of The Tin Drum existing as a series of episodes that may not always work together. (OR, may not work together without the context of the book).

FilmDr said...

I get the feeling that both Jan and Agnes are too sensitive and virtuous (in the film's moral sense) to survive under Nazi occupation. The movie definitely tends to split people up between the philistines (such as Alfred) and the more sensitive artistic types (Agnes, Jan, and Oskar).

Fox said...

Doesn't he break frame there and look at the camera?

Nice dig, FilmDr-

Yeah, you know, at first I thought he was looking back at Oskar, but then the shot shows us that Oskar is in front of the line-up. So, initially I didn't think he "broke frame", but now you've got me thinking about it.

And on The Godfather horse head...

I thought the same thing, and then immediately thought, "well, the label of 'The horse head scene' definitely belongs to a new movie now!"

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, I think it's definitely a possibility that Oskar is trying to fit in at the rally and being a child, inadvertantly screws it up.

Later he drums in salute to Hitler at the parade and also entertains the troops. There's nothing to really suggest he is at odds with the Nazis, which is precisely the point of the book. That Oskar stops growing and turns a blind eye to what is happening in Germany.

bill r. said...

I still don't fully get why Agnes chose (or perhaps I should say, why Grass chose for her) the gorging on fish as a means of slow and deliberate suicide.

Because sometimes, for some writers, nothing can be too broad (while still obscure) or gross. Of course, if my reading is correct, that by fish-eating herself to death she's carrying on the metaphor of the horse head scene -- "I'll gorge myself on the horror of my country until I die and thereby escape it" -- then that would explain the choice. But I doubt that Grass actually sat down and thought, "I shall have Agnes die by gorging herself on fish, and the reasons for doing so are as follows..."

It's probably something that just struck him as just absurd enough to fit (or just crazy enough to work, I guess), and he went with it out of instinct.

FilmDr said...

I tend to like Oskar, and I believe he deliberately drums the rally into a waltz. He's a subversive punk, too, and certainly not at all ethical. He strikes me as somehow sharing in anyone's satiric, lampooning perspective of the Nazis, especially after the war.

Jonathan Lapper said...

"well, the label of 'The horse head scene' definitely belongs to a new movie now!"

Believe it or not, I have always thought of this film first if someone mentions the horse head scene (and it always turns out they're talking about The Godfather). I saw this on cable back in 1981 and decades later before rewatching it for this post all I could remember was the horse head and the eels. Everything else had become a blur but that visual was burned onto my memory.

Pat said...

Wow, look what happens when I go to a meeting - the comment thread has tripled since I was last here!

Good points by all.

Fox, I haven't read the book either, so I went in cold, too. I think you're really onto something with theme of returning to the womb (espcially the segue from the mother's heartbeat to Oskar's drumbeat, which I hadn't caught).

Also, interesting discussion between you and Rick as to whether Osjar is intentionally manipulating the adults around him. I think he learned how to manipulate people and situations as time went on (pretty much how kids do). Interesting, though (as Jonathan also mentions) that he learns he has the power to change the whole tone of a Nazi rally through subverting the drumbeat of the ceremonial music, but doens't seem to use his power for any good motive after that. It's like just being able to change the music is fun in and of itself, but he's too immature to grasp the larger implications of what he's just done.

"The Tin Drum" puts me strongly in mind of a more recent film, last year's "I Served the King of
England." The newer film centered on a Czech waiter (named Jan Dite, significantly, since "dite" apparently is a Czech word for "child.") Dite is determined to become a millionaire and spends the years from the 1920s to the early 50s being single-mindedly focused on that quest, even as the world falls apart around him. But "I Served the King of England" works for me in a way "The Tin Drum" ultimately does not because its tone is so much more consistent and assured; there's no magical realism, but there is a light, comic sensibility that slowly evolves into something darker. As others have noted "The Tin Drum" seems inconsistent in its use of magical realism, and that weakens the film for me.

Jonathan Lapper said...

It's probably something that just struck him as just absurd enough to fit (or just crazy enough to work, I guess), and he went with it out of instinct.

Bill, I agree. That sounds about right. I think it works best without meaning. Just a maniacal and crazed way to go because she has taken a welcome leave of her senses.

Pat said...

My comments about Oskar's drumming at the rally obviously crossed with a lot of other discussion.

Fox said...

Later he drums in salute to Hitler at the parade and also entertains the troops. There's nothing to really suggest he is at odds with the Nazis, which is precisely the point of the book. That Oskar stops growing and turns a blind eye to what is happening in Germany.

I totally agree with that, but what of when Oskar starts into the, "there once was a gullible people who believed in Santa Claus, but Santa Claus turned out to be THE GAS MAN!". By saying that (and by saying it in the tone that he does!) is Oskar expressing regret for turning a blind eye? OR, does he see himself apart of the "gullible people"?

Jonathan Lapper said...

I tend to like Oskar, and I believe he deliberately drums the rally into a waltz. He's a subversive punk, too, and certainly not at all ethical. He strikes me as somehow sharing in anyone's satiric, lampooning perspective of the Nazis, especially after the war.

FilmDr, I don't really dislike Oskar either, not as much as some, like Roger Ebert who virtually hated him. By the way, I found myself quite disappointed with Ebert's review. It seemed flippant and terse, as if Roger didn't have the time to write a review for this thing he was forced to see. Even though he essentially had the same lukewarm reaction most of us had, it seemed dishonest and curt. Very unlike the Roger I know.

bill r. said...

I totally agree with that, but what of when Oskar starts into the, "there once was a gullible people who believed in Santa Claus, but Santa Claus turned out to be THE GAS MAN!". By saying that (and by saying it in the tone that he does!) is Oskar expressing regret for turning a blind eye? OR, does he see himself apart of the "gullible people"?

The tone of that line (as well as the tone with which he described himself, upon first making the choice to stop growing, as a "gnome") struck me, as I said before, as peculiarly demonic. "Infernal" is another word that occurred to me, which fits the image of flames after the "gas-man" line. The point being that in those moments Oskar struck me as a kind of supernatural beast of some kind, who maybe had very little to actually do with what was happening in his country, but who observed it all with an almost detached glee.

Jonathan Lapper said...

As others have noted "The Tin Drum" seems inconsistent in its use of magical realism, and that weakens the film for me.

Pat, I think the film would work better as a miniseries, six or eight hours long. After all, like East of Eden, they only cover one part of the book. A fuller exploration visually of the book and all of its characters would make the magical realism elements more consistent I believe.

Rick Olson said...

The drumming at the rally seems to be magical realism that works. Oskar doesn't have to intentionally turn it into a waltz, nor do I particularly think he does it intentionally, it just happens.

That it turned it into a waltz -- Jonathan, wasn't Hitler a big fan of Strauss? Is it partly a comment on the irony of the Nazi's love of beautiful music and the brutality of their regime?

Fox said...

I tend to like Oskar, and I believe he deliberately drums the rally into a waltz. He's a subversive punk, too, and certainly not at all ethical. He strikes me as somehow sharing in anyone's satiric, lampooning perspective of the Nazis, especially after the war.

That's an interesting take FilmDr, and I had that feeling at once too... but then I started to wonder, "does Oskar even know what is happening around him?". When he's in the Polish Post Office under gunfire, and death, and the onset of WWII, all he wants is Kobyella to fix his drum and for Kobyella to get his drum down from the case. Then when Kobyella is dying in front of his face he's content with playing cards!

So... is Oskar insensitive, or just ignorant? I mean, what's his age at this point? He's over 12 1/2 for sure, but it was unclear to me - during this scene - what his age was. Surely he was old enough to not act like such a spoiled child in that horrible moment of death.

But, again, because of his physical size, Jan seems to just brush his insensitivity off. If Oskar looked like a real fifteen year old in that scene, Jan woulda smacked him.

Jonathan Lapper said...

The point being that in those moments Oskar struck me as a kind of supernatural beast of some kind, who maybe had very little to actually do with what was happening in his country, but who observed it all with an almost detached glee.

I think that is the appeal to him of his stunted growth. Not because he hates the adult world - he wants sex and power as much as they do - but because it allows him that detached observance.

Also, he cries in the film when Maria hits him after he tries the fizzy powder routing again but when loved ones die like Roswitha or Alfred, he screams in shock but expresses no further emotion. Again, in the novel, in the postwar section he becomes a jazz drummer at a cafe where the Germans use cut up onions to make themselves cry so Oskar's detached lack of emotion makes more sense with the full story.

FilmDr said...

That GASMAN line struck me as symptomatic of Oskar's punk pleasure in the war. He seems to take pleasure in images of destruction. His breaking of glass prepares us for this.

Fox said...

The point being that in those moments Oskar struck me as a kind of supernatural beast of some kind, who maybe had very little to actually do with what was happening in his country, but who observed it all with an almost detached glee.

I think my feelings are starting to lean in that direction as well.

Jonathan Lapper said...

That it turned it into a waltz -- Jonathan, wasn't Hitler a big fan of Strauss? Is it partly a comment on the irony of the Nazi's love of beautiful music and the brutality of their regime?

Rick, I hadn't looked at it from that angle but it makes sense. Of course, the Nazis made sure they alienated the artists and intellectuals first because those were the folks who questioned things. Once they were rid of they could begin their horrors. Maybe the waltz scene is Oskar's way of saying, "We're not all gone, not yet."

Of course, that would imply that Oskar opposes the Nazis and that would run counter to the point of Oskar's existence as written by Grass.

bill r. said...

Does "the gas-man" line come straight from the book? I'm assuming it does. At any rate, we all seem to agree that that one line (along with the horse-head scene) is the single most striking and effective moment in the whole film. It was for me, anyway. I'll never forget it.

Fox said...

Again, in the novel, in the postwar section he becomes a jazz drummer at a cafe

Sorry... that just made me giggle picturing little Bennett as a jazz drummer in some cafe somewhere! :)

Rick Olson said...

Of course, that would imply that Oskar opposes the Nazis and that would run counter to the point of Oskar's existence as written by Grass.

Only if Oskar does it intentionally, which I don't necessarily think he does. It kind of just happens.

Fox, me too: Oskar as an observer of history, who manipulates it when it suits him, but still an observer "I'd rather be in the audience," he tells the circus/clown/dwarf.

kassy said...

"Oskar struck me as a kind of supernatural beast of some kind, who maybe had very little to actually do with what was happening in his country, but who observed it all with an almost detached glee."

Love that!!!

bill r. said...

Thanks, Kassy. I wish I hadn't used "kind of" and "of some kind" in the same sentence and in reference to the same thing, but what can you do? If only Rick could recommend some blogging system which allowed you to edit comments...

Fox said...

Pat-

The womb imagery/metaphors really stuck with me. Even until the end when Oskar is wheeled of in a snug cart.

Also, when he's having sex with Maria, he's fully covered in the blanket as if he's back in his mother's belly, and I think Schlondorff plays on that by giving us a full overhead shot of them in bed.

Is this perhaps what turned him on sexually? The "feeling" of being back inside a belly? The sight of Maria's stomach and the sensation of being enclosed near her belly by the blanket?

At first, we think Oskar's eyes widen because of the sugar in her navel and her natural sensual femininity, but maybe it's just the intimacy with the belly that turns him on.

bill r. said...

That GASMAN line struck me as symptomatic of Oskar's punk pleasure in the war. He seems to take pleasure in images of destruction. His breaking of glass prepares us for this.

Is this idea consistent throughout the film, though? I like the theory, and I think it's supposed to be there in the film, but how often does it crop up?

Marilyn said...

Dwarves or people short in stature are used quite a bit in literature to represent evil. Lagerkvist's The Dwarf is one of the most evil-minded books I've ever read. The killer in the medieval streets of Venice in Don't Look Now is a dwarf.

It's interesting that Grass would take this traditional European figure for evil (or truthsaying in some traditions) and recreate it as willed innocence of current events. Nonetheless, the evil inherent in the dwarf is manifest. Perhaps it is a Lagerkvist wrote: "soon the prince will need his dwarf again". Perhaps the mere presence of Oskar is an indication that the world is ready for cruelty again. Think of his mentor, who must have stopped growing during the first world war. He might have been the signal for that conflict.

FilmDr said...

Oskar's pleasure in destruction goes along with the way he destroys Alfred by jamming his party pin in his hand. It's almost as if he's impatient with history and hastens it (such as when he summons Jan into the post office) to its natural conclusion. He seems to be both naive and vindictive, an agent of justice, at the same time.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Now I'm behind on the comments thanks to work.

Sorry... that just made me giggle picturing little Bennett as a jazz drummer in some cafe somewhere! :)

Fox, I think if it were done now it would be done as a miniseries on German Television and CGI would be employed as it was with The Lord of the Rings to make a full grown actor appear small as Oskar and then grow after the funeral of Alfred. In the book of course, by the time of the jazz cafe he has begun to grow again and since they couldn't realistically do that in 1979 without using another completely different actor they just abandoned the whole post war section.

Fox said...

Remember David Bennent as a elf in Legend?

Gump 1

Gump 2

I remember as a kid being creeped out by him in that movie too.

bill r. said...

I've seen the comparison made elsewhere, but it's true: dude seriously looks like Malcolm in the Middle.

Fox said...

In the book of course, by the time of the jazz cafe he has begun to grow again and since they couldn't realistically do that in 1979 without using another completely different actor they just abandoned the whole post war section.

It's curious to think about stuff like that... the good and the bad of it.

I wonder why Schlondorff didn't at least have a narrated epilogue of somekind, OR, one of those credit-sequences where we see the character with a "where are they now" caption. Oskar left town, had two kids, and plays drums in a jazz bar. (I'm kidding about that last part...)

bill r. said...

There should have just been a title card before the credits that said

The End...?

Or, I guess

Das Ende...?

That would have solved everything.

Fox said...

Or they coulda gone all Slumdog Millionaire on us and broke out into a Octoberfest dance.

kassy said...

What FilmDr said about Oskar jamming the party pin into Alfred's hand seeming vindictive and naive at the same time is good. He absolutely did it on purpose, the look in his eyes when he gave it to Alfred was almost evil. But then when Alfred was shot and Oskar was screaming "Papa, papa" its almost as if he wanted to get Alfred in trouble but it never occurred to him that Alfred could get killed. I found it odd that of all three of his parents, he showed the most reaction at Alfred's death; the one parent who wasn't his bio-parent.

Is sympathy for Oskar supposed to come from the idea that it was exposure to adult-life that made him the twisted boy he was and that he couldn't help but grow up like them?

Fox said...

I found it odd that of all three of his parents, he showed the most reaction at Alfred's death; the one parent who wasn't his bio-parent.

Kassy-

Good point. And Alfred was the least physically loving of all three parents. He's the one that sparked Oskars first scream.

As far sympathy for Oskar, I can say that right now I don't feel any for him. I'm not sure exactly why, yet. Right now Oskar doesn't even seem like a human character.

Rick Olson said...

I'm with Fox, amazingly enough again (but if Marilyn is still around, that could change ...)

Oskar is an icon much more than a human figure, an idea personified, as befits an allegory. And if he represents the German people who refused to "grow up," and see what was going on around them, how could we feel sympathy for him, unless we found that idea sympathetic?

Flickhead said...

Apropos of nothing: around the time when this film came out, Herzog made Even Dwarfs Started Small and he had a dwarf character in Kaspar Hauser.

A reach: does the travelling dwarf show reflect the small-mindedness of the Nazi audience they play to?

bill r. said...

Flickhead - I don't know, but wouldn't it have been great if Herzog had directed The Tin Drum?

Rick Olson said...

Good question, Flickhead. Or does it represent something that speaks to the Germanic mythos? Or perhaps the Nietzsche-ian man/superman kind of thing that they bought into. as in "Look how ridiculous these little, non-Aryan humans are ..."

Fox said...

On that traveling dwarf show, am I wrong, or does the ringleader end up joining the Nazis?

I thought I remembered him in a SS uniform late in the movie. (Again, this made me wonder why the Nazi's would accept a "genetic mutation" into their ranks.)

Fox said...

Shifting gears here a bit, and maybe I will be throwing a line (or horse head) out here that gets no nibble....

But I found the sexual tension and release between Agnes and Jan to be incrediblly erotic. I'm mostly thinking of the love scene they have while Oskar is at the toy shop.

Both of their butts are perfectly round and firm and, I guess, "German", and when Agnes get's on top of Jan and wails it seemed very aggressive and real and loving. All of that, and it didn't even appear that they actually had sex. It looked like Agnes just laid on top of him.

Overall, and in a weird way, I found Agnes to be attractive.

Jonathan Lapper said...

And if he represents the German people who refused to "grow up," and see what was going on around them, how could we feel sympathy for him, unless we found that idea sympathetic?

Sorry for my disappearance. Rick, I agree with this but I do have some sympathy for Oskar. Is that because there is something in all of us that has sympathy for even the most despicable people when they hit hard times? I don't know.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, what's weird about finding Agnes attractive? I thought she was a very attractive woman and very sensuous. Or is it sensual? Whichever it is, she is.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Flickhead, Rick and Bill - I think it would have been much better had Herzog done it and yes, I think the Germans are thinking, "Look at these ridiculous non-aryans." The entertainment comes from feeling superior to the performers.

Fox said...

I don't know... maybe she's just not the type I typically fall for. Is her face a tad androgynous perhaps? She kind of has a strong, boxy face, but I found it - as you said - sensual.

But still, I find other "women of German Cinema" to be quite sexually attractive, particularly some in Fassbinder's crew.

Back to Agnes... even when she's eating the sardines I didn't mind, and that was pretty nasty. I wonder what "pickled herring" tastes like. Weirdo Germans.

Rick Olson said...

Fox, I'm with Jonathan -- I find Agnes very attractive.

And about Fassbinder's crew -- two words: Hanna Schygulla. I saw her in Tarr's "Werckmeister Harmonies" and she was still sexy, (in a weird, germanic, grand-motherly way).

Jonathan Lapper said...

I do have to give full credit to the actress, Angela Winkler, for doing that. I mean, given how many takes there usually are on a given shot, and sticking all that fish in her mouth. What can I say? I'm impressed.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Rick, you're with a lot of us. You're with me, with Fox, with Marilyn. If you were on a boat with Aguirre and he asked, "Who's with me?" you'd be all like, "I am! I am!"

Oh mercy, you know I'm just giving you a hard time. I'll stop now because in all seriousness I don't want our film club posts to degenerate into jokefests at the tail end of the conversation.

That said, I'd like to keep this conversation going and invite anyone else with thoughts to chime in but if this is it I can't be disappointed. At first I was a bit nervous thinking, "This movie won't spark any conversation. What a rotten choice I made." But today I was pleasantly surprised. However, Marilyn's choice is still the one to beat in my opinion and the next time my turn comes up I'm going with a documentary too.

Nevertheless, Bob Turnbull, Joe, Krauthammer, Miranda, WendyMoon, Ed, Tom, Ibetolis, and anyone and everyone else - Please join in with further comments. Even if they are stand alone comments without response, that's fine. I'd like them on the post anyway because eventually I would like these posts by all of us to be a place where a cinephile or novice can go to get a full understanding, or as full as one can get, of a particular movie. If they look up The Tin Drum or The True Meaning of Pictures and find our posts, they will be able to read a discussion that covers a deep variety of perspectives.

Fox said...

Jonathan-

This was a great choice and the discussion has been just as good as TOERIFC #1.

What I like about this format is that it results in same amount of insight and information you would find in a good film review, but since we are all commenting impulsively and feverishly, a lot of intersting views come out. I love it.

And just to hammer home a point that Jonathan already made, I hope people - Bob Turnbull, Joe, Krauthammer, Miranda, WendyMoon, Ed, Tom, Ibetolis, etc. - don't feel dwarfed (har har) by the amount of comments already. There is still lots to say about this movie, so if you wanna say it, please do! I know I will be checking back often.

JOSEPH CAMPANELLA said...

You know what has sucked about the first two meetings of our little club?

I work overnight and don't wake up until the conversation is at 100+ posts! Oh well. If I can't be an active part of the conversation, I can still read all the great points being made by you fine people!

Here's my little take on the film and on Lapper's review . I haven't read through all the posts, so like others before me, forgive me for any repeated comments/thoughts...

While I thought this movie was a great feat of filmmaking (camera movement, editing, acting,,,) I didn't find myself enjoying it.

Maybe it's because I didn't know anything about the story from the beginning, and thought that I was in for a sweet tale of a boy and his drum. What I got was a slimy film about a little brat that was more annoying than heroic.

Don't get me wrong. There were many sequences in the picture that were great to watch. Notably, the birth of little Oskar and the ending scenes with the circus crew. Both I find that I enjoyed these parts for the wrong reasons. Mostly because they were bizarre.

What I didn't understand about this "allegory" is why they would make a boy, who "refuses to grow up in order to avoid the horribleness of adult life" into a little prickish asshole. Again, maybe it's because I was expecting a sweet tale, but I was really bothered by how much I disliked Oskar.

The parts with the blonde stepsister/lover/mother were a bit bizarre, but once again, they got me more into the film, again for the wrong reasons. I don't think I'm a dumb guy, but I'm certainly not the smartest. I just didn't get the point to most of these scenes.

On the filmmaking side, this film was quite brilliant. The camera work and lighting were first class. The length of the film worked. I thought the pacing was right on, even though it was more of an episodic film.

Am I glad I saw the film. Sure. I think this was a great pick by Lapper. It's definitely a polarizing and well made film, and totally worth the discussion. I think this TOERIFC club is 2 for 2 so far.

Great Job!

Krauthammer said...

Hey everybody! Sorry I'm late, I've couldn't see the movie until late today for a variety of convoluted and boring reasons, but I won't get into them. A few caveats: I don't have a talent for reading things allegorically, so you'll have to excuse my not using it. I haven't read the book, so you must ignore if I don't bring it up, and whole thing is a bit rushed as well, so forgive any stupid opinions or bad grammar. I thought the movie was great, so much that I actually want to personally thank you, Jonathan, for making me watch it. Scholondorff has an amazing eye for technique, but he uses it in a more contemplative way if that makes any sense. For example,when he uses the frame jumping that someone (there's so many comments that I don't know quite who) compared it to silent comedy, but I don't think that any ironic comment is intended, but that it creates this disjointed, dreamlike feeling from the very beginning. It's used again at the wake for the mother, if I'm not mistaken, which I think really brings home how important and central her death is, how it unhinges everyone.

On Oskar not growing up: I agree with those who say that while he attempts to distance himself from the adult world by simply not growing taller, he does eventually become an adult mentally. From my viewing (and I'm not quite sure, it would require a closer watch or two) at the beginning Oskar is shown in traditionally “childlike” situations, showing this adult world from the aspect of a child. I'm thinking specifically about the scene where Oskar is under the table, the camera shows the viewpoint through that of an inquisitive child. Even though he never grows after that,we never really see him explore the nooks and crannies of the area anymore, I think that the film is distinctly in his point of view the entire time, and the camerawork seemed to use less and less low-angle shots and other such work that insinuate the viewpoint of a child. Though, again, I'd need to watch it at least once more to make sure.

On the dwarves and what would happen in Nazi Germany: the lead dwarf says this explicitly to Oskar the first time they meet, that there would be speeches that “preach our destruction.” That's why I found it so strange that they were performing for Nazi soldiers, perhaps they were accepted for this brief period as long as they were serving the Reich and would be exterminated afterwards? It's another irony to be found in the film, for sure.

The movie definitely uses disgust in order to get it's point across. I don't usually have a weak stomach, but I had to turn away for several moments like Oskar being forcefed the soup, the mother eating the raw fish, and the Nazi father swallowing his pin. I don't know how this was treated in the book, but perhaps the movie is attempting to show its contempt for the entire era through consistently adding disgusting elements to it? They get the job done, if true.

One thing I found interesting was that the Nazi father cooked the eel dinner at all. In my household it was always the father that cooked, so initially I didn't find anything out of place, but when he says something like “I spent hours cooking over a hot stove” what does this mean when he belongs to an ideology that commands strict gender roles and fetishizes masculinity? Is it merely an ironic comment, or some grander message? I don't have the answer for this one, so if anyone would like to chime in, it would be much appreciated.

There are some other things that I'd like to talk about, but this post is getting too long and I'm afraid that the conversation is over already. So, what does everyone think?

Kimberly said...

When I first saw The Tin Drum I was probably 14 or 15 years old (it played on Showtime a lot in the early '80s). I thought it was a terrific film and I still do. I haven't seen it in at least 15 years though so my comments will undoubtedly sound a little distant and removed.

I was unfamiliar with the original book when I first watched the film, but I still found the movie utterly compelling both visually and narratively. I was fascinated by the story of a child who refused to grow-up on a personal level, but most of the political/historical allegory went completely over my head. It wasn't until I was about 21 that I started reading Grass and got a better understanding of the complex ideas the author was exploring about his country, religion and power structures in general (both in the home between children and their parents/mothers and out of the home between adults and society/government/the church, etc.). The main anti-authoritarian themes of the film are really universal though and I think the movie can easily be enjoyed on its own without prior knowledge of the book.

Generally speaking, a lot of German writers who wrote after WW2 such as Günter Grass were not interested in the "likability" of their characters and they saw the world in shades of gray instead of easily defined black and white, which will obviously be unappealing to some. I see the world in much the same way so I guess that's probably why I like a lot of postwar German writers (Thomas Mann being one of my favorites). The mixed or "gray" tone of The Tin Drum can be found in much of the author's other writing that I've read. Grass doesn't seem to have any interest in separating comedy from tragedy for example, or eroticism from repulsion, and he's constantly trying to evoke both emotions simultaneously in his readers. I think director Volker Schlöndorff does an incredible job of evoking similar reactions from viewers who watch his film adaptation of The Tin Drum and that's not an easy task. In turn, The Tin Drum is not easy viewing but I think it's a terrific and unsettling film.

As for Grass' personal involvement in the Waffen-SS... I hate to say anything since I might be labeled a Nazi sympathizer, but I think it's extremely important to have some understanding about the complexity of the situation Grass found himself in as a very young man. He grew up in Hitler's Germany. He was only 5 years old when the SS was originally formed. There are some German people who undoubtedly suffer from denial just as there are some Japanese who deny their involvement in WWII or some Americans who like to deny our involvement in various atrocities (some occurring as I type this), etc. But Grass spent much of his adult life trying to make amends for his past as well as the actions of his country by educating the German public, writing about his experiences and becoming seriously involved in the peace movement. Does this absolve him of his actions when he was a child or teen? I'm not willing to make any judgment myself until I walk a mile or two in his shoes, but I think it's extremely important to have some kind of understanding of what it was like to grow-up as a young German under Hitler's rule.

Kimberly said...

In retrospect, I think many of the German writers (prewar and postwar) that I've read have seen the world in shades of gray. For better or worse, that mixed/hazy world view seems to come naturally to the German people or at least German artists, writers, filmmakers, etc.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Joseph, thanks for your insights. I agree that the film is visually compelling to watch, in fact, it's what kept me going through most of it when the story began to feel episodic and disjointed.

And I don't know how many comments you've read but I think we all agreed that David Bennent was a striking figure to watch and his narrative voice was other-worldly.

When I got home from work I re-watched specific scenes again. I don't know how well it works one way or the other but I do know that I already find myself revisiting images on the DVD now that I finally can.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Sorry I'm late, I've couldn't see the movie until late today for a variety of convoluted and boring reasons, but I won't get into them.

Convoluted and boring reasons? Do tell! No, actually don't.

A few caveats: I don't have a talent for reading things allegorically, so you'll have to excuse my not using it. I haven't read the book, so you must ignore if I don't bring it up, and whole thing is a bit rushed as well, so forgive any stupid opinions or bad grammar.

Well, Jesus, Krauthammer should I bother reading your comment at all? I half expected you to finish that statement with, "I don't know how to spell, my teeth have fallen out and my computer is powered by a six year old hamster with a bad leg."

Anyway, jokes aside, your comments are always welcome KH. And you're right, at the meal after the mother has died things are sped up again so it's not just used at the beginning. In fact, it is used during the disappearance or death of a parent in both cases so maybe that means something as well.

And the book vividly paints pictures just as disturbing as the movie does.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, somewhere in this thread of comments I talked about the first time I saw it was in 1981 on cable, and in fact, it was Showtime. You're right, they showed it a lot. How cool you saw it the same way. The main thing I took away from it was the beach scene with the horse head and the eels. It wasn't until watching it again for this post that I fully appreciated the allegory at work although knowledge of the book's fuller use of allegory did dampen the impact a bit.

Also in the comment thread here I think there is general agreement that the film is visually striking to watch and - if you didn't catch it in the comments - to listen to. Oskar's voice in the narration is demonically hypnotic at times. When I got home tonight I watched several scenes again as I mentioned above and also listened to Oskar's "gas man" line again and again.

While I think the movie only half succeeds as an allegory it draws me in more and more with its imagery. I think I'll be re-watching it for a long time.

As for Grass, I don't think anyone here is going to label you a Nazi sympathizer for defending Grass. Most of us don't know what to think. When he tried to volunteer he was fifteen and it was 1942 just after America entered the war. When he was drafted it was December 1944 and it was almost over. I also stated somewhere in this thread and in the original post that he could have taken an even higher moral ground by revealing his involvement early on, by saying if someone who served the Reich, however involuntarily, can show remorse then we all can. I wish he had revealed it from the start. I think it would have served his goals better.

Ed Howard said...

Wow, this is one remarkable post and discussion, Jonathan. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to watch the film until earlier tonight, so I wasn't able to contribute all day, and now I'm hopelessly behind. (130 comments? Holy crap.) Anyway, I've now read your great overview and skimmed the comments, so here are a few thoughts:

- I loved the rally drumming scene, which I thought was the film's best moment. The way Oskar disrupts the rally through his childlike playfulness seems like a real beacon of hope, it's beautiful. And yet the film not only abandons this hope but proceeds to trample all over it: elsewhere, Oskar's "play" is destructive and even monstrous rather than potentially redeeming.

- Bennent is incredible, and incredibly creepy.

- The sexuality in the film is very disturbing. I agree with Fox, who said earlier that he found the Agnes/Jan love scene very erotic; that's the film's one portrayal of sexuality in a positive, joyous light. Much of the rest of the film is sexually perverse, and I found it very troubling to see a little boy in these situations, which however simulated were still real to some extent (he really did seem to have his head buried in Maria's crotch). I was troubled by this element in Sweet Movie (which I otherwise admire) as well, and the child sexuality in The Tin Drum makes that film's striptease for little boys scene look tame.

- On the same topic, I'm not sure I get how the film's sexual material is integrated with its political allegory, or if it is at all. There sometimes seem to be at least two films here: one an intentionally shocking and lurid child sex thing, the other a magical realist political allegory. They don't fit together very well, if you ask me.

- Otherwise, I agree with most here: the film has some very striking images but for all sorts of reasons doesn't really work as a whole.

kassy said...

Ed, thank you!! When Kimberly mentioned Grass not separating eroticism from repulsion and the director trying to do the same, I immediately thought of Sweet Movie but couldn't remember the name. I hadn't really given the film's sexuality much thought when I watched because I was trying to figure out the point; but what is the sex supposed to represent? Reading all the comments has made me wish I had kept the dvd a little longer so I could re-watch it.

Oh and Kimberly, you were the film blog I originally found that eventually led me here, so thank you!!! :)

Ed Howard said...

You know, I tossed off the Sweet Movie reference as an aside, but now that I think of it, that's a film that manages to combine bizarre and repulsive sexuality with political allegory without one overwhelming the other, and without the movie seeming schizophrenic in its different tones. The sex in that movie also doesn't have the same grim, sordid feel of most of Schlondorff's sex scenes: Sweet Movie manages to make even literally eating shit seem like a subversive, revolutionary sexual activity.

Fox said...

Ed-

This is the second time in a week that Sweet Movie has come up! (BTW... I would absoutely love to have that film in a TOERIFC forum b/c it's one of those movies that I feel so mixed up over and have wanted to discuss with people after a fresh viewing.)

But onto Sweet Movie and The Tin Drim similarities, there is also the "sugar" being sexualized in both films. Not only with that woman on the boat, but in that outstanding final scene where that beautiful woman bathes in chocolate for what seems like hours.

And, Ed, you're right, for as much more perverse and disgusting (on the surface) Sweet Movie is than The Tin Drum, it DOES seem to handle sexuality in a less grim way.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Ed, I don't think the sex is supposed to mean anything outside of making it clearer to the viewer or reader that Oskar is getting older and maturing even if he isn't growing. I mean, there's the maternal stuff and returning to the womb, but politically I don't know what it would mean.

I've never seen Sweet Movie so I can't do an adequate comparison between the two. I understand how it can be disturbing watching a child involved in a sex scene as I found the scene of the father discussing child rape with his son in Happiness to be quite disturbing. However, at the same time I wonder why no one is ever bothered by children involved in violent scenes of which there are plenty. Of course, the answer many would have is the violence isn't real. Well, neither is the sex unless it's child pornography and that's a whole different animal.

I'm going to play the parent card here for a second and say that with four kids, one already grown and moved out, we have never made sex scenes in movies taboo and believe it or not the oldest didn't grow up to be a mad rapist. He also watched plenty of violent stuff and has yet to kill anyone. Now the violent stuff is pretty normal, most parents let their kids watch cartoons and movies filled with violence but they absolutely freakin' flip out when it comes to sex! Kids can handle and discern a lot more than people give them credit for. David Bennent has been acting steadily since (and has grown to 5'1" pictured here ) and from everything I can find on him it appears he is normal and not suffereing from any bizarre sexual disorders because he stuck his face in front of a girl's crotch (and by the way, when they film those scenes, there is a piece of clothing covering the private parts) or climbed on top of her under covers.

The thing is, when people see this they equate it with a child being involuntarily molested by a malevolent adult, which of course can and does screw a person up for life. It's that equation that's wrong, not the acted scenes in the movie. It would be the same if we looked at a violent scene in a movie, like the kids terrorized in the truck in Jurassic Park - they're battered, beaten, thrown, trapped and later, electrocuted - and thought of it as being the same thing as beating your child. It's not of course. We understand that distinction with violence in film but we don't with sex.

Pat said...

I wasn't able to get online last night, so I missed the last third of so of this discussion.

But I just wanted to thank Jonathan for choosing "The Tin Drum" and launching another fascinating discussion. It's enlightening and challenging to read and process so many divergent points of view - certaily enriches the experience of the film for me. I expect that I will re-watch it in the future.

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I agree that Sweet Movie would make a great TOERIFC selection; you should pick that one. It's a film that will certainly prompt lots of discussion, and probably get lots of dissenters.

Jonathan, good points and to a certain extent I agree with you that kids shouldn't be overly sheltered from these kinds of things. And I certainly think kids can handle watching/reading way more things than parents tend to think. I wouldn't plop down a bunch of little kids in front of Sweet Movie or Salo, or even The Tin Drum, but I don't think any kid's going to be unduly traumatized by seeing a few movie sex scenes.

There's still something uncomfortable, though, about seeing child actors in sexual situations, in a way that isn't true for movie violence. It may possibly be that movie sex tends to seem "less fake" than movie violence: we know watching a violent movie that of course nobody is getting beaten or shot or blown up, but when it comes to sex Bennent and the women in the film really are getting naked or nearly naked, really are rubbing up against one another in sexually suggestive ways. They're not really doing what they seem to be doing in the movie, of course, but it's still close enough to be somewhat disturbing. I'm not equating it to sexual abuse, at all, but I do still find it troublesome.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Ed, I agree that they really are naked, no doubt and I understand that makes things a little different. But when he goes under the covers after the two of them have gotten into bed dressed, I don't think their genitals are rubbing up against each other under the sheets.

Now if they put Bennent, naked, on top of her, naked, with no covers, like Agnes and Jan or Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now, and they start thrusting up and down I admit, I'd think that was going too far and find it all a bit too creepy. But they didn't and used a blanket over them, I think precisely because he was eleven.

Fox said...

It would be the same if we looked at a violent scene in a movie, like the kids terrorized in the truck in Jurassic Park - they're battered, beaten, thrown, trapped and later, electrocuted - and thought of it as being the same thing as beating your child. It's not of course. We understand that distinction with violence in film but we don't with sex.

But, as Ed pointed out, there is a great distinction between simulated violence and simulated sex.

Bennent had to witness looting, death, and explosions during the filming of the The Tin Drum and I think one could make an argument that that can have an affect on child actor at the age of 11, but in the simulated sex scenes, his body was involved and we can pretty well guess that he was sexually aroused whether the actress was wearing a patch or not.

Long term, psychologically, do those type of fake sex scenes have more of an impact on a child actor than fake violence? I don't know. But you have an ethical question over an 11 year old actor being sexually stimulated by a 24 year old.

Jonathan Lapper said...

his body was involved and we can pretty well guess that he was sexually aroused whether the actress was wearing a patch or not.

Well Fox, if he hadn't gone through puberty yet I'm assuming there was no arousal at all. And what about when you did go through puberty? Would doing a scene with a pretty older woman screw you up? Hell no! You're going through puberty. That kind of thing is on your mind 24/7 anyway at that point.

I understand everyone's point but this is what I'm talking about when I say that people treat sex (and again, to be sure, I'm not talking about forced child molestation by a grown man) like it's this psychologically damaging activity. It's this lurking puritanical tendency clinging to us. If I were 13, or going through early puberty at 11, and had to do these scenes with Katharina Thalbach I would have been the happiest child actor on Earth. In my first instance of kissing a girl onstage at 14 I was thrilled, and a little afraid that my uh... excitement would show.

Why I would ask do you or Ed believe, if you do that is, that being naked with a pretty young actress would psychologically hurt David Bennent in any way?

Fox said...

Why I would ask do you or Ed believe, if you do that is, that being naked with a pretty young actress would psychologically hurt David Bennent in any way?

Jonathan-

I can't say. I don't think we can. And I tried to be clear in saying that I don't think you can measure the damage (or lack thereof) of a situation like that.

Personally, when I was 11, I would have LOVED a 24 woman year old in my bed, but what if I were an 11 year old girl and the 24 year old were a man? It's a double-standard, but if Oskar had been a girl, and Maria a man, I would have been much more uncomfortable with the sex scenes in The Tin Drum.

I'm just saying it raises debatable ethical questions. If Bennent's parents were fine with him being in these scenes, then so be it. Personally, I don't like the idea of having strict regulations or restrictions on these things. (Obviously some are needed.)

But I disagree with you that our socielty is puritanical about sex. I think that's often overstated. I think segments of the population wish we were, but sex is just as prevalent in our culture today as violence is. Now, I agree that people pretend to be more offended by sex than violence, but, I mean, the world of pornography is a click away these days.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, it certainly is debatable and you're right, double standards are at play. Switch the sexes and the whole thing takes on a different meaning doesn't it? Or what if David Bennent is hitting puberty and realizes he's gay? Or what if he's hetero and has to do a similar scene with a 24 year old man? Suddenly it feels like a messy can of worms is opening up.

So, let me make myself more than clear: For this argument, I am speaking uniquely and singularly about The Tin Drum. I concede that you are right that my statements do not apply across the board with all sex scenes involving children so I will restrict my argument to this movie alone. In this movie, I don't think there is any problem and don't feel weird or uneasy during the scenes in question.

As for puritanical, yeah, porn is everywhere but the shock over sex in this country, even if pretended, is more than it is elsewhere. My countrymen in Italy don't pretend to be shocked or otherwise. The fact that we pretend in the first place says something right there.

You make good points and it's definitely a tricky subject to begin discussing. I'm glad it came up at the end because I was afraid the whole thread was going to be about the obscenity charges in Oklahoma and not the movie.

Kimberly said...

Jonathan - That is cool that we both managed to see it for the first time in the '80s! Thinking about it now, I may have even been younger than 14 when I first watched the movie oddly enough. It did get a lot of play on Showtime in the early '80s.

In regards to Grass, my point was that growing up in Hitler's Germany would undoubtedly shape and inform Grass' thinking so I don't think anyone should find it too surprising that he might be inclined to enlist when he was a very young man. I do agree that he should have revealed his involvement from the start, but I think it's pretty obvious that shame about his past colored his adult thinking. In many ways the character and actions of Oskar in the Tin Drum are representative of that shame.

kassy - I'm glad you were able to find your way here thanks to my own blog!

kassy/Ed - In regards to the sex in The Tin Drum and what it represents, as I mentioned above, I haven't seen the film or read the book in many years but I'm pretty sure it could be seen as part of the power struggle that Oskar is fighting. It's also important to remember how sex made you feel when you were young. Sure, it's all good now but I can remember being both frightened and fascinated by it as a child. I think a lot of kids go through this while growing up and parental figures often play a part in how we feel about sex. Your mother or father is often the first nude adult you see, etc.

In the Sweet Movie, sex is a liberating act between adults but in The Tin Drum it's a bit more complex than that. As others have mentioned, Oskar's constantly trying to return to the womb or fetishizing his mother. Power struggles start in the home and either end there or are continued into adulthood by the way we interact with society, other authority figures, etc. Grass believes the problems of the German people (or people in general) start in the womb and throughout the film (and book) I think he explores that in various ways.

I'm avoiding talking about the child pornography controversy since I've already played with fire by talking about Grass" involvement in the Waffen-SS, so excuse me why I walk around the subject...

Kimberly said...

Just wanted to say that I'm not ignoring you, Fox! I just realized that I forgot to include his name on my post.

Fox said...

Jonathan-

It looks like we don't differ that much then, b/c I agree with you on the case of The Tin Drum. I didn't find that scene between Maria and Oskar bothersome or offensive because - as you mentioned - I related it back to how I felt as a 11-13 year old, when all I wanted to do at that age was play baseball and stare and a woman's naked body.

I admit I'm being hypocritical by saying I would be bothered by seeing a 11 year-old female actress with a 24 year-old male actor. However, I think we (I don't mean you & I) could have an argument about why I think a double-standard is valid in these cases, but that's for another time since we want to keep this on The Tin Drum. (There is a similar situation in the Nicole Kidman movie Birth, but the "sexuality" in that movie is much more benign.)

Now, on the Oklahoma City thing, I didn't even know about that until you mentioned it. I just Wiki'd it, and maybe that's not a fair enough source, but I think it's ridiculous that the judge ruled that The Tin Drum was more-or-less "child pornography". That's the type of knee-jerk social engineering that annoys the crap out of me.

Fox said...

Just wanted to say that I'm not ignoring you, Fox!

Don't sweat it! ;)

And I don't mean to poke you with a stick into the fire, but I'd love to hear your comments on the "child pornography" thing.

Your comments on German culture have been extremely insightful. Just you mentioning the "problems of the German people start in the womb" adds a whole other dimension to the film. You quote Grass as saying that, but do you get the feeling - from your interest in German culture - that that is the general feeling in German society? Meaning, is it possible Schlondorff felt the same way?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, it's true that growing up in Nazi Germany would shape Grass' way of thinking in many ways so I don't know why it was so shocking when his conscription was revealed. And it's clear from his writing and speaking that there was a lot of shame involved on his part that probably made The Tin Drum even better.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Fox, I don't think it would be wrong if an eleven year old girl and a 24 year old man were doing the scenes as long as, again, nothing was actually happening. If however the girl is having the man's penis shoved in her mouth then yes, it's child pornography because an eleven year old doesn't know enough about what's going on to be consensual. By the same token, had Bennent been shown to actually insert his erect penis in Thalbach and been shown to be licking her vagina then, again, yes, that's child pornography but none of that happened. That's why the Oklahoma case was overturned.

Still, it's odd isn't it that it does seem different, and worse, when the sexes are reversed.

Marilyn said...

I think I know why it seems worse when the sexes are reversed - because of the deeply misogynistic streak in our culture. When we see it happening to grown women, we feel that by then these women should have learned the score and stood up to it or acquiesced to it. When confronted with a girl, we are shocked into confronting to power imbalance in all its rotten glory.

Yes, I have been reading "I Blame the Patriarchy" today.

Kimberly said...

Fox - I will say that like yourself, I find the idea of The Tin Drum being called "child pornography" ridiculous and extremely shortsighted.

As for Grass believing that our problems begin in the womb. Well, I didn't "quote" him (apologies if it seemed that way), but I think it's an obvious connection one can make after seeing the film and reading the book. I hate generalizing an entire people, but many German people undoubtedly have no problem connecting the dots between parental behavior, etc. and the way it effects children and shapes our adult view of the world and the way we deal with conflict.

The womb in The Tin Drum - as in life - can be viewed as the thing that makes and shapes Oskar. Americans tend to forgot or deny how much our parental figures as well as authority figures we encounter early on shape and inform our approach to life. Freud for example, has fallen out of favor among American intellectuals, but he's still popular with intellectuals in Eastern Europe.

Simply put, I think it's easy to over complicate what Grass was saying with The Tin Drum in relation to Germany and WW2 when many of the film's themes are universal.

Ed Howard said...

Just to be perfectly clear: I don't think The Tin Drum is child porn and would never suggest that it should be banned or otherwise censored. I'm sure that Bennent's parents consented to the scenes and that he was shielded as much as possible from anything untoward. I was just identifying something I found to be a troubling element.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Marilyn, I can't argue with that. Even when saying in my previous comment to Fox that it wouldn't bother me if the situation were reversed, I still had to acknowledge that it would feel different because that's the mindset we've been taught. The boy is enjoying sexual freedom but the girl is being raped.

And for the record, I blame everything on the Oligarchy.

Fox said...

Marilyn-

I'm not sure if I'm understanding you correctly.

What do you mean by "it" in "When we see it happening to grown women..."?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Ed, why are insisting it's child porn?

Just kidding. Bennent's father was an actor who worked with Schlorndorff (he plays the Boy Scout uniform Nazi riding his bicycle in the snow) so yes, Bennents parents definitely approved.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I think it's easy to over complicate what Grass was saying with The Tin Drum in relation to Germany and WW2 when many of the film's themes are universal.

Kimberly, that's completely true. There's so much more to this than just a WWII allegory.

Kimberly said...

In regards to why it seems "worse" when the sexes are reversed, well I think Marilyn might be on to something.

I also think people just have a real problem with associating females and plain old healthy sexual behavior/interest. In other words, it's okay for a 12 year old boy to want oral sex from a girl, but it's considered strange or abnormal if a 12 year old girl wants to give oral sex to a boy.

Women masturbating, lusting after men, wanting sex, etc. is seen as the perverse behavior of "sluts." But men get patted on the back for their sexual exploration and encounters.

Ed - Just for the record, I never thought you considered The Tin Drum child pornography.

Marilyn said...

Fox - "It" meaning, sexual exploitation, abuse, etc.

Kimberly - There's a fascinating article on the female sex drive that takes what you said and extends it. I'm the angry Marilyn in the comments section, if you get that far (and perhaps you shouldn't because it's a lot of idiocy).

Recommended reading to all.

Kimberly said...

Thanks for sharing that link, Marilyn! I enjoyed the article a lot.

Kimberly said...

And Jonathan, I wonder if parents of young girls see things differently too? I know you've mentioned that you have a daughter, but I don't know if you also have a son so I'm assuming things here, but maybe there's an urge to "protect" her that colors your view?

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'm the angry Marilyn in the comments section, if you get that far

If? After reading that comment how could I not read it that far? I'm going over there right now.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, I said a couple of comments back that I wouldn't have any problem were the sexes reversed, just that I acknowledged it would feel different to many, maybe even me.

Sexually, my wife and I understand nature. That sounds obvious but for many parents, preaching abstinence, it's not. They really think that birth control puts sex in the mind of youngsters. It doesn't, nature does. We hit puberty and the hormones kick in. So long story short, the oldest daughter was on birth control pretty much from the moment she had her first period. We want her to be responsible and she is. But nature's nature. We're not going to deny that. And so I don't have a view that if a girl wants sex early she's a slut. She's a human being with hormones, like the rest of us.

Marilyn said...

I have now put two comments in the thread. That should double your pleasure, Jonathan.

Kimberly said...

Jonathan wrote:

I acknowledged it would feel different to many, maybe even me.

I realize that, which is why I thought you might have an urge to "protect" a young girl since you have a daughter. Personally I don't understand why it would feel differently to anyone if it was a boy or a girl so I'm trying to wrap my mind around why others do.

And so I don't have a view that if a girl wants sex early she's a slut.

Never thought you did. I was merely suggesting that there is a general assumption that females who want sex and actively engage their male partners are somehow abnormal or in the words of the person who wrote that article Marilyn linked to, "Good girls don't."

A great example of this (and apologies for straying too far off topic) is the way that the media has recently cheered on adult female teachers who are sexually active with young male students. There's the assumption that the young man wants it and is in charge, but if the roles were reversed (adult male teacher in a sexual relationship with a young female student) it's naturally assumed that the girl is sexually naive and a victim.

On a side note... I just realized that I've spent more time writing in your blog than I have in my own in the past 2 months.

Fox said...

But isn't there a difference in an older man with a minor vs. an older woman with a minor b/c the sexual intentions of men tend to be more piggish than those of women?

When we hear of female teachers with their students, there is always a storyline of "Oh, he was so smart and loved poetry and loved me", while if it's a man they are like "she's hot". Can't we just admit that, in general, men are much more simplistic and superficial when it comes to their sexual desires than women are?

Because of that, I think it makes the scenario of a 24 year old man with an 11 year old girl more disturbing than the reverse.

Marilyn said...

Fox - You need to have your consciousness raised. You buy all the gender stereotypes so readily. I know that's easy for you since you seem to always have sex on the brain [:-)], but it's really all a matter of conditioning. I assure you that the female pedophiles are as seriously cracked as the male pedophiles. One thing that isn't mentioned is that male pedophiles actually love children, have romantic feelings for them. It's really exactly the same as the female pedophiles.

I guarantee you that if people didn't keep trying to highjack our uteruses and force us to forego contraception and abortion, that women could be just as eager as men to engage in superficial sex - many of us already have, do, and will, just not those who still fear pregnancy without redress.

Fox said...

Marilyn

Well, that's a tad high horse of you. I know you're a female and I'm not, but I don't see how I'm buying into stereotypes while you're on the right path by following scholarly wisdom of some kind. Both can be a path to ignorance.

I'm pulling from my peers, and when it comes to my peers, the men are much less "loving" about sex. Yes, women can be just as superficial, but odds are not so much as men are

Most sexual predators are men and most child molestors are men. Men spending an obnoxiously larger amount on money & time on pornography than women do.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, this line - On a side note... I just realized that I've spent more time writing in your blog than I have in my own in the past 2 months. - makes me hope that means you'll be updating soon.

And with this -

And so I don't have a view that if a girl wants sex early she's a slut.


Never thought you did. I was merely suggesting that there is a general assumption that females who want sex and actively engage their male partners are somehow abnormal or in the words of the person who wrote that article Marilyn linked to, "Good girls don't."


No, I knew you didn't think that I was just stating it because so many people believe that girls who want sex are sluts and I want everyone to know that my daughter is guided as we all are by nature not some trumped up moral crap created by Man (and I don't mean "Man" as in "Humankind" I mean it as in Man)like "Good girls don't".

To answer your original question I feel the need to protect every one of our children but there is no special greater need for the daughters than the sons. The oldest daughter is in fact one of the strongest willed and confident persons I have ever known.

Marilyn said...

Fox - Respectfully, you need to update your perceptions. Both can be the path to ignorance, but in this case, I have the advantage of knowing my own gender AND yours. Here's a quote from a site I find crammed with wisdom for women:

"...like all oppressed classes, women, as a matter of survival, are intimate to the point of exhaustion with the drives, appetites, illnesses, angsts, yearnings, hopes, dreams, great works, and bodily functions of the oppressor. We grasp these things utterly and without omission because we do not live in a cave; they are the default subjects of all art, literature, music, science, film, blogs, dinner conversation, science fiction, advertising, journalism, legislation, TV, the Internet, religion, technology, sport, and miscellaneous culture both low and high. The minute some dude tells me something I don’t already know about dudeliness, I’ll eat a bonobo."

I'm not sure I'd claim complete and perfect knowledge (this was written in absolutist to discourage men from running on about their problems on a radical feminist site), but the point is still more than valid to me in its spirit. If that makes me high-horse in your eyes, so be it. But I'll point to my scars and say, patriarchy has been very, very bad to me.

Fox said...

Marilyn-

I'm not sure I follow or understand where you're going with this.

My point was to show why there is a difference - however hypocritical it may be - in the way audiences react more uncomfortably to a scene with an 11 year-old girl and a 24 year-old man... instead of the reverse. I think it is because men are, in general, more piggish in their sexual desires than are women and are statistically more predatorial than women.

Do you dispute that? Sure, there are exceptions, but exceptions don't wipe out the generalities (or stereotypes) that are based in truth.

How can you dispute the superficiality of men consuming loads of more pornography than women, OR, that men haunt strip bars much more frequently than women, OR, that men go to prostitutes more than women?

My opinion has nothing to do with the sexual liberation of young women or sexual freedom of women in general. Who somebody has sex with, OR, how many people somebody has sex with is of no concern to me until I get in bed with them too.

Marilyn said...

Fox - I don't have a command of the stats on these heinous crimes or porn tendencies, but one thing I can say is that information about men, in general, is much more vast than that about women. Clinical trials, for example, used to be done on men and results extrapolated to the female population. Many stats about women that get a high profile in the media that comprise the largest source of information for wide swaths of the population are highly suspect (e.g., women of a certain age more likely to meet a terrorist than get married - like this is useful in any way, shape, or form; women want to get off the career track and onto the mommy track). I spent an entire summer entering sexual assault data into an antiquated computer for NOW Chicago because the state didn't have that information, which would have been quite helpful in setting up programs and crime prevention measures.

You may claim that men consume more porn (though I always wanted to watch porn movies, and my ex was too embarrassed to) and molest more children, but do we really know that for sure? Has anyone been paying attention to women, or do we just decide that a woman wouldn't do that? Aren't films about mothers' incest toward their son a distinct subgenre that nobody seems to get all riled about?

Jonathan Lapper said...

Aren't films about mothers' incest toward their son a distinct subgenre that nobody seems to get all riled about?

Well there is La Luna and Spanking the Monkey. The Tin Drum may also qualify. There is no explicit sexual relationship but I think Oskar has a "thing" for his mom that may be mutual.

Marilyn said...

There's all The Murmur of the Heart, All About My Mother, The Manchurian Candidate. The last one is the only one that seems to deal with this arrangement in a negative light.

Jonathan Lapper said...

The last one is the only one that seems to deal with this arrangement in a negative light.

Isn't that what you and Fox were arguing to begin with? That the perception was different for women and men. You seem to be agreeing that when its an older woman, even the mother of her lover, it's not frowned upon. Or maybe I've just lost track. I know there's a whole lot more in there. I'll go back and re-read the relevant comments.

Fox said...

You may claim that men consume more porn (though I always wanted to watch porn movies, and my ex was too embarrassed to) and molest more children, but do we really know that for sure?

I don't think there's any evidence I could offer up that would satisfy you. I would say walk into a XXX megaplex in your city and do a gender count, OR go on to Craigslist and see how many entries there are for men wanting casual sex versus women, OR, look at the profiles of child molesters (but if you think those are skewed by a patriarchal society, then I don't know if that would matter.)

My wife wants to watch porn with me too. But she doesn't want to watch it alone (like I do). Is this perhaps b/c she doesn't think it's intimate or sensual w/o me? On the other hand, one of my best friends (a female) watches quite a bit of porn and masterbates more than I do, and then tells me about it. Does my friend buck the "perception" of women not being superficial? Yes. But does she buck the bigger picture of it? No, I don't think so.

I think the evidence of this exists in the real world, when we walk around, talk to peers and strangers, get on the internet, see ads on TV, observe the culture as a whole, but if you think that's not strong enough evidence then I guess we just disagree.

Aren't films about mothers' incest toward their son a distinct subgenre that nobody seems to get all riled about?

Yep. And I submit that that double standard exists b/c men are generally seen to be more piggish about sex.

Does that mean motherly incest should get a pass? No. But that's just the way it goes in our culture. My whole point of this discussion is simply to try and explain WHY I think that is, not to justify it.

bill r. said...

Goodness! I didn't know this was still going at this pitch. I feel a bit out of the loop here, but if I may be pedantic for a moment:

There's all The Murmur of the Heart, All About My Mother, The Manchurian Candidate. The last one is the only one that seems to deal with this arrangement in a negative light.

I can't say anything about the Almodavar film or La Luna, as I haven't seen them, but Spanking the Monkey portrays the incest pretty negatively, as I remember it. You're right about Murmur of the Heart, which is why I despise that film. I also hated Spanking the Monkey, but for different reasons.

Marilyn said...

Fox - You're right. I believe that what we see in society is a reflection of the male-dominated culture. Thre are many, many other cultures that are invisible in America. I wrote myself about The Exiles that we just don't have that many films about Native Americans that really look at their culture from their point of view. You may think female culture is everywhere, but you'd be wrong. Read the link I put in the comments to female sex drive, and you'll see that the dominant culture hasn't even scratched the surface. Until it does, we really won't know much about the prevalence of female pedophiles or porn consumers.

Jonathan - We weren't arguing that point. I was arguing that the perception that women pedophiles care more about love than male pedophiles is a culturally biased one.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Marilyn, thanks, when I went back through the comments it became clear again where and how it started.

Bill, I too couldn't stand Spanking the Monkey but now I can't remember why. I saw it when it came out, didn't like it, but honestly I can't really remember why now.

And it seems Marilyn and Fox have finished up.

And therefore I will now wrap this up on topic for posterity sake:

So that's how Oskar came to throw away his Tin Drum.

The End.

bill r. said...

I think we didn't like Spanking the Monkey because it wasn't any good.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Agreed.

And that's how Oskar came to throw away his Tin Drum.

The End.

bill r. said...

Although you know what? Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe we should both watch it again.

Fox said...

I think Spanking The Monkey turned me on. (This can totally be explained by something that is not gross, trust me.)

Kimberly said...

I'm on the west coast Jonathan so my apologies if my comments are a little late, but I wanted to answer Fox myself.

Fox wrote:
But isn't there a difference in an older man with a minor vs. an older woman with a minor b/c the sexual intentions of men tend to be more piggish than those of women?

Fox, your making wide sweeping assumptions based on American culture, your own limited experiences and sexual attitudes. Like Marilyn, I don't agree with them.

Most Americans are brought up to think sex is a "men only" area of interest and pornography is bad/dangerous and bought only by males. That is slowly changing though and if you spend some time visiting adult sites that sell adult movies for example you'll discover that many porn films are now being marketed at women and even made by women.

As for American strip club, etc. being frequented by more males, well it's pretty obvious that there are many more places that advertise to men and appeal to them so naturally more men frequent these places.

I highly recommend researching other countries like Japan for example to see what women are like when they feel comfortable enough to explore their own sexuality in a very public way. In Tokyo for example women consume just as much pornography as men, but it's often created by other women so they know what appeals to women sexually. When you walk into an adult comic (manga) shop in Japan it's not uncommon to see an equal amount of women buying adult material. You can find plenty of shops that only sell women focused pornography (mostly adult manga and anime, but nude photo books featuring attractive male stars are popular as well) and they're not tucked away in some dark, dirty ally. Teenagers, mother's, professionals, etc. visit these shops and buy porn in the bright light of day.

They also have countless male "escort" clubs (aka male "geisha" clubs) that are extremely popular and frequented by women. These places are often clean, comfortable places where women feel safe about paying for sex and exploring their sexual appetites (although not many are "open" about the money exchanged and that's to be expected since men in Japan also don't often openly discuss what they pay for female companionship).

Anyway, my point is that due to their religion and cultural differences, Japanese women have become much more comfortable about exploring their sexuality, erotic desires, etc. than women in America.

As Marilyn keeps pointing out, women are dealing with centuries of trying to navigate their sexual desires in a male dominated society. As "free" as America likes to believe it is, Americans have some seriously backward ideas about sex and in particular, female sexuality.

Last but not least, I'm staying far away for the incest discussion... I've played with fire already, but I won't play with a nuclear bomb.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly, don't apologize, those are some extremely illuminating insights into how our culture has specifically catered towards men's sexual appetites but in other countries such as Japan there is a much more equal distribution. Thanks for that.

Kimberly said...

I hope I didn't make Japan sound like a female wonderland, because it's not. In many ways Japan is a very macho society and women are often treated as second class citizens, but the Japanese are much more comfortable about exploring their sexuality. They just don't talk about it. In other words, your private life is your private life in Japan.

Fox said...

As for American strip club, etc. being frequented by more males, well it's pretty obvious that there are many more places that advertise to men and appeal to them so naturally more men frequent these places.

Trust me, if there was a demand for more female strip clubs, that demand would be filled.

And for the 48th time, I'm not saying women don't have the desire to explore their sexualities, I'm saying that I bet that if we went to a geisha club that much of the clientele would be male.

As for sexual freedom in Japan, well, I wouldn't say it's freer than in America. Stuff like Manga comics, Anime porn, and Pinku film are direct reactions against the Japanese culture and government frowning on open sexual expression.

Kimberly said...

As for sexual freedom in Japan, well, I wouldn't say it's freer than in America. Stuff like Manga comics, Anime porn, and Pinku film are direct reactions against the Japanese culture and government frowning on open sexual expression.

What old history book have you been reading? Believe me when I tell you that attitudes in Japan about sex have changed a lot in the past 30 years.

Having visited the country three times and after talking to my Japanese friends and reading countless books on the topic, believe me when I tell you that Japan has evolved a lot since the '70s.

Trust me, if there was a demand for more female strip clubs, that demand would be filled.

You've got be kidding?

I'm done. I've said all I can on the topic.

Clearly Fox knows more about female sexuality than Marilyn and I.

Fox said...

Clearly Fox knows more about female sexuality than Marilyn and I.

Come on. We're just talking here. No need to get upset.

But you say: What old history book have you been reading?

Just the one that talks about censorship laws in Japan not outlawing the exposure of genitals in "obsecene" material (ie porn).

Now, you might say "well, that isn't enforced that much", and you'd be right, but there are still laws on it which is why I said Japan isn't really a freer super-sex society as I felt you were implying it was.

You've been to Japan, I haven't, so you obviously have a leg up on me. I can't debate your experiences there.

And I don't know more about your sexuality than you do (never claimed I did... is debating the opposite gender's sexuality not allowed???), but will you concede that I know more about my sexuality than you do?

Fox said...

And no, I'm not kidding on the female strip clubs.

Perhaps you and Marilyn are right that the cultural attitudes in America haven't opened up enough females to demand them yet, but if there was a demand for something in the sex industry, that demand will be filled.

It's a recession proof industry afterall.

Marilyn said...

Chippendales is a strip club chain for female patrons. It got hyped about 20 years ago, but seems to be something reserved for soon-to-be wives and girls turning 21. It's a small niche market. There's one about 1 hour's drive from where I live. I've never wanted to go.

Let's face it, Fox, is it possible that women aren't turned on by the same things men are? Maybe we don't want to go to strip clubs, and that's why they aren't flourishing.

This is the problem of thinking about what men want and assuming it's generalizable to women. Just like the clinical trials, a pill and dosage for a man just doesn't naturally work as well in a woman.

Fox said...

Let's face it, Fox, is it possible that women aren't turned on by the same things men are? Maybe we don't want to go to strip clubs, and that's why they aren't flourishing.

Fair point, Marilyn. I imagine many of the Chippendale's clubs are managed by men w/o much input from women.

You know, and this isn't joke, this conversation has given me ideas for a new type of business venture. And if I ever did, I would be sure to have a female partner for R&D! :)

Marilyn said...

Fox, I have written some erotica in my day. (Call me...)

bill r. said...

NOW the conversation gets interesting!

Also, I've imagined some erotica in my time, if you want to call it that.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Remember that time Oskar rushed into Maria's crotch? That was great.

Kimberly said...

Sorry if I sound a bit annoyed, Fox. But it feels like you're only reading 50% of what I'm writing.

Just to be clear, the "male escort clubs" in Japan are not "strip clubs" and the men who work at them are not musclebound meat heads like the Chippendale guys. Not that there's anything wrong with that since the whole "muscle stripper" scene obviously does appeal to a some women.

I suggest doing a little Google search for yourself. Youtube is filled with videos advertising these Japanese clubs. In some host clubs the young men who work at them put on live shows with dancing, etc. but most of them are just like women hostess clubs frequented by men in Japan who come in for dinner, drinks and some conversation, which can lead to "other" things if the price is right.

Do I think similar male hostess clubs would be huge hits in metropolitan areas like NY, LA and San Francisco? I'm not sure since American women are very different than Japanese women. There's all kinds of historical, cultural and religious differences to consider. Just like Japanese men and American men are very different. But we all have the same body parts and (I believe) sexual urges even though they manifest in different ways.

The issues involved are complex, but my point was this - I think in many ways, women in Japan have more options for exploring their sexuality. Women in Japan also create a lot - if not most - of the pornography that women buy in that country. I've never come across a clean, cute well-lit shop in San Francisco for example selling adult material to straight moms, housewives, professional women and teens. If one opened up in San Francisco would it become popular? I don't know since once again we're dealing with deep cultural differences, a long history of "good girls don't" in this country, etc.

I think your belief that men are "pigs" and women don't have similar sexual desires, etc. is just extremely shortsighted. Unfortunately it's confirmed every day by the American media, our piss poor sexual education, etc. It's a complicated topic, but I highly recommend reading that article that Marilyn linked to above and searching out similar material so you get some other perspectives on the topic.

And full confession time - I'm one of the original founders of Yaoicon, which was started in 2001 so um yeah... I know a lot about Japanese porn created by and aimed at women.

Kimberly said...

Remember that time Oskar rushed into Maria's crotch? That was great.

Poor Jonathan... what was it that we were supposed be talking about? Oh yeah, that Tin Drum movie.

Great scene!

bill r. said...

As was the scene that followed!

Kimberly, I've stayed out of most of this quite unexpected new discussion that has branched off of The Tin Drum of all things, and I shall continue to do so, but it's really odd that bring up those Japanese male geisha clubs, because I was wondering around Netflix earlier, and saw a movie about that very phenomenon called...well, guess what, I didn't think to write down the title, because who thought that information would be useful? But there is a movie about Japanese male geisha clubs, is what I guess the point of this comment is.

Kimberly said...

Indeed there is, Bill! And just for the record the title is The Great Happiness Space. It came out a few years ago and I highly recommend it. Oddly enough, the film is not a flattering look at the "hostess boy" life, but it seems to have generated a lot more interest in the clubs, which are blooming all over Japan and now popular among female American and European tourists.

For any guys who might be interested, there's a lot of job opportunities at these clubs for American men too!

Fox said...

Fox, I have written some erotica in my day. (Call me...)

Make-up phone sex is the best!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I was just joking, this discussion is great and does stem from the scenes of David Bennent naked with the older Katharina Thalbach. A discussion about that aspect of filming the movie I suppose is just as valid as anything else and somehow seems even more so with Fox involved.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Kimberly - Why don't you take part in this. I know it's filled up until next year (and there are a couple of other members who have e-mailed me about picking a movie) but I'm sure your choice would be great. Let me know if you want to.

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