Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Attack" from Patton by Jerry Goldsmith

Because I'm younger than most of my Fistful of Soundtracks audience, which sometimes bothers me, my first exposure to the Patton score wasn't through Patton. It was through the war between Nelson Muntz and Bart Simpson.

Aw, jeez. It's tough to pick for the "March Madness March of the Day" series just one march from Jerry Goldsmith's brilliant and rather subdued score from director Franklin J. Schaffner's 1970 biopic Patton (fun but disturbing fact: it was Richard Nixon's favorite movie and it might have influenced his wartime decisions, like the bombing of Cambodia).

There are four marches in Patton that stand out: the "Entr'acte" version of the General Patton march, the "Attack" version of that march, the German forces' march, which is distinguished by its bizarre time signature, and "An Eloquent Man," which merges both the Patton and German marches. I don't want to give two or more posts to Patton because there are so many other films with exemplary marches that I want to cover for the rest of the "March Madness March of the Day" series, so you win, "Attack."

Back when AMC stood for American Movie Classics(*) and its original programming--before the days of the esteemed Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the not-as-esteemed but spectacular-in-the-ratings Walking Dead--just consisted of a dramedy about old-timey radio called Remember WENN, AMC was old people's MTV. One of the few things I liked to rewatch on geriatric MTV when I was in college was the uncut and letterboxed Patton. You would think '90s AMC, with its serene graphics and older hosts like Bob Dorian and unexpected recent jailbird Nick Clooney, would find George C. Scott's language in Patton to be too salty to air, but fortunately, the channel kept its hands off the audio-off button during its airings of Patton. It could have pasted bleeps over Scott's saltiest words like most basic cable channels do today, but '90s AMC was too classy to bleep.

It was also too classy to interrupt its movies with commercials, so I could watch prolonged and uninterrupted chunks of Patton and be able to notice that for a film with such a famous musical component (the trumpet triplet, which represents Patton's obsession with reincarnation and was given a fading echo effect by Goldsmith with the help of a tape-looping device called an echoplex), Patton contains very little score music. There's only about a half-hour of it during Patton's nearly three-hour running time. The most effective film scores are ones that aren't so intrusive, and the Patton score is an example of that. It does its thing--like during the montage that traces Patton's winning streak on the German battlefield--and then gets out of the way.

The cue during that winning streak sequence is "Attack," which unleashes the pompous Patton march at its most pompous, as Patton heads for German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's forces in Berlin and amps up the troops with "I'm gonna personally shoot that paper-hanging son of a bitch!," a line I was especially glad to see AMC keep because of Scott's wonderful delivery during that moment.

Patton producer Frank McCarthy and Goldsmith later attempted to capture lightning in a bottle again with another World War II general biopic, 1977's not-as-well-received MacArthur, which starred Gregory Peck and was directed by original Taking of Pelham One Two Three helmer Joseph Sargent. In the early '80s, Goldsmith arranged "The Generals Suite," which combined his MacArthur march with his Patton march and became a staple of his concerts. So why is the Patton march more interesting than the less subtle MacArthur one and why is it such a highlight of Goldsmith's oeuvre? Goldsmith Conducts Goldsmith album liner notes writer Derek Elley broke it down best when he said the Patton march is "a melody which, like [General Patton], has ambitions to glory but remains trapped in its own dreams."

(*) I think it now stands for Advertisers, Meth and Culo.

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