Friday, January 20, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... THE TIN DRUM

Only now does it occur to me... that Günther Grass, who was once a brainwashed, teenage SS member, was capable of growth and wisdom and change, and after the war went on to pen the 1959 novel THE TIN DRUM, which is one of the ugliest and most complex and most potent indictments of fascism ever written, an achievement which, among others, won him the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In 1979, the director Volker Schlöndorff adapted the first two-thirds of the novel in his Palm d'or-winning film of the same name, and it illustrates many shocking and indelible symbols of the national schizophrenia induced by fascist identities––from a mother's suicide-by-binge-eating-raw-fish to a Nazi father choking on his own party pin.

One of the film's most powerful scenes is a symbolic testament to disrupting totalitarianism. Our protagonist Oskar (a boy whose own stunted growth seems to mirror his nation's) infiltrates a Nazi rally with his beloved tin drum. He takes up position beneath the grandstand, and, as the Nazi orchestra heralds the arrival of party officials,

Oskar literally plays to the beat of his own drum

confounding and throwing off their fascist lockstep,

and inspiring flourishes of individuality among the players.

Oskar's childlike persistence leads the entire orchestra to abandon its martial pageantry and to begin playing Strauss' "Blue Danube,"

which leads the majority of those assembled to forget about the hateful pomp and circumstance and to simply break ranks, dancing along to the waltz.

This infuriates the Nazi leadership, who actually make up the smallest percentage of the rally––
(with the majority being confused and under-educated citizens looking for simple solutions and a source of community)
––which reveals that the Nazis' control over the situation is entirely conditional on the illusion of control.

Adding well-deserved insult to injury, it begins to rain,

and the Nazis flee like drowned rats

leaving behind 
very little.

While the sequence traffics in a similar kind of wish fulfillment as when our heroes squash an Illinois Neo-Nazi rally in THE BLUES BROTHERS, it still persists as a wonderful symbol: the power of a free-thinking individual against the would-be forces of authoritarianism. As a book like ORDINARY MEN shows, the transformation of "working dad" into "Nazi murderer" is not natural––it relies upon an intricate system of peer pressures and the illusion of control. Anything, however minor, the individual can do to combat the normalization of totalitarian conventions is useful in stemming fascist tides, and this scene is a vivid illustration.

Now, to another, less important, but emblematic point. I uploaded this particular scene to YouTube in a clip called "The Tin Drum: Disrupting Totalitarianism." I rely upon standards of Fair Use to analyze film clips on this blog––occasionally, the copyright holder takes exception, and the clip is taken down. Usually, they monetize it and the studio makes a small amount of ad revenue off the clips. Neither was the case in this instance––instead, I received a strike against my account for promoting "hate speech" and am currently on a form of probation. Naturally, I appealed the strike, assuming that images of Nazi flags had alerted an automated system, and that an individual had not actually viewed the clip. In my appeal, I explained not only the film's established pedigree (it is widely considered an important anti-fascist tract, and its association with the Nobel Prize and the Palm d'or certainly back that assertion) but also the purpose of the clip, which vividly illustrates the power of the individual against oppressive power structures. I received a reply this morning, informing me that my probation and their original ruling still stand, not on "copyright," but on "Community Guidelines" standards. I don't know what is more troubling: that they would censor a clip without judging the content (films ranging in importance from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to THE SORROW AND THE PITY contain swastika imagery), or that they did judge the content and simply disagreed with the anti-authoritarian message. In any event, I'll sit out my probation; there are far more important issues to get worked up about.  [Even more interesting is that a somewhat longer version of the clip seems to already exist on YouTube (you can easily find it, I imagine, but I won't link to it in the hopes that they, too, will not accused of hate speech).]


gweeps said...

"The illusion of control."

We often forget in our disappointment about our failed leaders that promises are simply suggested possibilities, and politicians lead us because enough people had faith in their illusory pull.

Political liars do their work in plain sight. It's our collective responsibility to not gloss over their nonsense, even by suggesting a lie is nothing new. That's the point; we must do what we can to mitigate the damage.

Sorry to hear about your Youtube troubles. Sadly, context has become the main causality of the modern age.

Thanks for the insight. I'll keep The Tin Drum in mind.

gweeps said...

Sorry, I meant 'casualty'.

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, gweeps.

THE TIN DRUM is a very demanding (and often ugly) film to process, but I think it's worth your time.