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As Good As Any Film Biography
on 1 January 2003
"Patton", is massive by any measure. Number of Academy Awards won, 8, inclusive of best picture and best actor, the man chronicled, General George Patton, the World War that is documented in the film, the cinematic scope of 150 degrees the view takes in, or the sheer size of the numbers of persons and material that was put on the screen. Winning 8 Academy Awards while The United States was torn by the ongoing Vietnam War was no small feat for this film that documents one of the larger than life participants in that human conflict, one of the great warriors of the 20th Century, or of many other centuries depending on your view of the man. His was a towering personality and every event, every decision matched his ego, with the result that he was wildly successful, a man given to horrendous missteps, and either loved, feared, or hated. The bottom line was that if you were fighting you wanted Patton fighting for you, not against you.
One of the reasons this film was not narrowly defined as a war film was that it was about this one man. It is true there are classic war sequences as when he nearly yells, "Rommel you magnificent.........I read your book". But the film really is about a personality, and one that was rapidly falling out of favor when generals were no longer needed as warriors, when they were becoming diplomats, and in some cases planning a run for high political office as the war ended. Patton's ideas about continuing the war with the Russians may seem simplistic, but his attitude, one that was contemplated by other noted and respected men at the time, provides one of the greatest counter-factual discussions for historians, specifically what if we had not treated the Russians with the deference that we did, what if Churchill's party was not removed from office, what type of peace would then have emerged, and from it, what type of post WWII world?
Like the books that have profiled the man, the film is also comparatively massive at just a bit under three hours in length. With rare exception, contemporary films now hardly ever contemplate such a running time, for it means too few turns of the audience in a given theater. The fact is, that the films just are not as worthwhile, for when they are, people will happily sit through them and be oblivious as to there length. One only has to look at the newest installment of, "The Twin Towers", to see that a 3 hour film fills as many theaters as it is allowed to play in, and is breaking and making new records as the days pass. Hollywood geniuses take note, quality is still not only appreciated, it is recognized, the dumbing down of films is done in Hollywood by those that create the mediocre movies, it's not indicative of what film fans are desirous of seeing.
George C. Scott was a remarkable actor, and while not defined by any single film or stage performance, "Patton", was certainly a role that generally followed closely with a discussion of this actor's career. It sounds like the worst cliché, but when on screen, the man becomes Patton, as I suppose most performances that are truly special, and are still in demand 33 years after they are made all are.
I recently watched, "A Bridge Too Far", another filmmaking epic that was more of an ensemble film as opposed to a star vehicle like, "Patton". It was made in 1977, seven years after, "Patton", and by comparison the film looked terrible. The DVD I watched was re-mastered via THX, and the picture and sound that resulted were excellent, and makes the same treatment for films like, "A Bridge Too Far", imperative. Any film that people still are willing to pay for and watch that is in its fourth decade of existence benefits enormously from improving the picture and the sound via THX and other technologies. "Patton", takes advantage of this technology, and other studios should take note, and make the investment in other films that have firmly established themselves as classics.