The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Tin Drum
So I was reading the 1959 novel The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass, all about Oskar Matzerath — whose childhood in Germany coincides with World War II, who willfully stops growing at age three and becomes inseparable from his toy drum. And it hit me: a writer this unapologetically weird had to have influenced John Irving, particularly as Irving was writing Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Nurses, very small main characters . . .) Sure enough, I googled the two novelists and found that Irving has called Grass the only living writer “of whom I am simply in awe.”
Yep, these are two strange storytellers. But I would say, at least on the basis of The Tin Drum, that Irving puts his strangeness in the service of clearer goals. Oskar Matzerath seems to stand — sort of — for the soul of Germany, but beyond that Grass’s truly bizarre images often seem to exist for their own sake. That said, they certainly are memorable: eels emerging from a horse’s head fished from the sea, a man choking to death while trying to swallow a Nazi pin, a particularly foul dish of spaghetti . . .
Maybe that’s enough. Speaking of spaghetti: this past weekend I introduced my daughters to Sergio Leone‘s 1966 spaghetti-western classic The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. When it was over I said to them that as much as I like the movie, it’s a little difficult to say why. Yes, the actors and Leone’s images look cool, but their coolness is in the service of — what? It’s hard to really root for anyone, since even the Clint Eastwood character, “The Good,” is good only in relation to the lowlife played by Eli Wallach and the downright evil Lee Van Cleef. Yes, maybe that little comment on moral relativity — buttressed by all those shots of maimed Civil War soldiers — is the point, but is it a point Leone needed three hours to make? I choose not to worry about it. I just sit back and enjoy it, and then walk away slowly, spurs jingling, whistling that cool theme song . . .