At the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, Volker SchloÌˆndorff unveiled his long awaited director’s cut of his controversial 1979 film, The Tin Drum. An adaptation of Gunter Grass’ novel, we follow the young and shrieky Oskar as he experiences the absurdities and horrors of life in Europe during World War II, and yet refuses to age.
Janus Films is finally ready to begin touring the film, with dates and locations coming soon. I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming days and weeks. I’d check this page for updates (it’s not currently up).
What follows is an excerpt from the press notes, in which Volker SchloÌˆndorff discusses his reasons for the changes.
Why the director’s cut now?
The rough cut of the movie, which we showed GuÌˆnter Grass, ran 2 hours and 45 minutes. It left out a number of scenes we had shot but not printed. Meanwhile, our distribution agreement with United Artists forced us to cut the film down to 2 hours and 15 minutes, which was the maximum running time possible for theatres to book two evening screenings. Therefore, we resolved to polish the existing cut and never even looked at all the other material, much less take the time to edit it.
When the movie turned out to be a big success in the shorter version, we ‘“ of course ‘“ did not want to diminish the honors bestowed at Cannes and at the Oscars by letting the world know we thought the film was incomplete. Billy Wilder quite rightly reminded me at the time: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’
Last summer, I was asked whether the lab storing the negatives of the unused footage should renew our space rental agreement or dispose of the material. The question instantly piqued my interest in seeing how the material we left out could work nowadays; and I went to work right away to find out. First of all, we discovered images of impressive quality: virgin-like negatives, which had never been touched by a single hand since the reel had been taken out of the camera 30 years earlier. I turned to my working script, where I had made notes and comments on every single set up and shot. That document helped shape my pre- selection and sorting out of the raw material.
We were able to use Maurice Jarre’s original recordings and only some voices had to be overdubbed by the actors, as those tapes had deteriorated. It was difficult for the 42-year old David Bennent to replicate his 12-year old voice, but digital processing provided a solution.
Which scenes are new?
For over 30 years, Mario Adorf rightfully complained that the cuts had damaged his role in the film. As he writes in his most recent book, Mazerath, who was at first absolutely enthusiastic about the Nazis ‘“ declaring ‘we are experiencing historical hours, you can’t be a bystander, you have to participate!’ ‘“ suddenly rebelled when euthanasia orders classified Oskar as an unworthy living human being. He even managed to resist and prevent Oskar’s being taken away. Actually, the surge of his resistance was of prime importance for rounding out his character.
I also vividly remembered the ‘Rasputin’ scene we shot, in which Oskar imagines orgies at the court of Saint Petersburg. Screenwriter Jean-Claude CarrieÌ€re played the part of the bully Rasputin surrounded by naked playmates. It was hilariously funny for those of us on set. So 31 years later, CarrieÌ€re gets to reappear as a young man. Moreover, David Bennent is unbelievable in that scene, when he launches into a long monologue directly into the camera about Goethe and elective affinities, without once batting an eye.
Finally, and probably most importantly, we were able to re-cut the whole scene with Fajngold, who was the Treblinka survivor. It accurately portrays the historical background of the displacement of the Germans in Danzig.
To give today’s audience a better understanding of the period, I used old newsreels as ‘time markers.’ The movie is not only about the little big Oskar, it is about contemporary history too. In line with the book, the film is an epic.
I am really glad that I finally had the chance to rework the movie and to complement it. Of course, I had to polish up some minor flaws for the Director’s Cut, but, in the end, we did not want a totally different movie; we wanted to produce the real one ‘“ the complete one ‘“ the one we shot back then. It will be exciting to see which of the two versions will become definitive in the long run.