Epic, fantasy, glasses, J.R.R. Tolkien, Joshua Jammer Smith, mechanical pencils, original photograph, spoon, still life, tea, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Epic, fantasy, glasses, J.R.R. Tolkien, Joshua Jammer Smith, mechanical pencils, original photograph, spoon, still life, tea, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
"Well... I shoveled shit in Louisiana.", “Old Blood & Guts”, Biopic, Carl Malden, Catch-22, Epic, Erwin Rommel, Film, film review, Francis Ford Coppola, Franklin J. Schaffner, General George Patton, General Omar Bradley, George C. Scott, Julius Caesar, military, Patton, Planet of the Apes, The Longest Day, World War II
There really are few films that can be called truly great both subjectively as well as objectively. There are also few films about World War II that can leave the viewer so enraptured by a personality without actually showing much of the battlefield.
It’s a tradition in my family’s house that Memorial Day Weekend is reserved for sitting on the couch, turning on TCM, and watching war movies back to back to back to back. Since I’ve moved out the house this tradition has been altered a little bit, and so this Saturday when I arrived we had prearranged three war movies set up for a triple feature. The films in order were Patton, The Longest Day, and Catch-22. The last film was a bit surreal and entirely different than the book which had brought me so much pleasure, and The Longest Day seemed waned from the previous 20-30 times I had watched it before. However nothing changed with Patton and I was reminded why I continually return to the film. The first time watching it was in my early teens. It had come on AMC and the actual joy of watching it was really solidified as I would watch Dad say the lines of the film before George C. Scott did. Dad was often telling me stories about World War II, Churchill, Reagan, and Patton, and watching the film then was like watching the narrative come to life. When I watched it again, I was a bit detached, but the ritual was still the same as before, only this time I spoke along to the first lines of the film:
Patton: Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
It’s important to realize that just because he died that doesn’t give you any real authority to call him a poor dumb bastard, but Scott’s delivery is so perfect it’s impossible not to laugh or be in awe of him as he delivers the now iconic opening speech. The image of Patton standing in front of a massive flag that almost absorbs his body into it has become the iconic symbol of this film and in many ways contributes to the quasi-nostalgic mythos that is the man of Patton who, in real life, was a bit of an oddball. Before I get to him though it’s important to understand the speech at the beginning of the film for in many ways it’s a short film unto itself. Apart from Alvy Singer’s opening monologue in Annie Hall, I really have never observed a film in which a character is so fully revealed and developed so that the viewer immediately understands the character in just a few lines, but Scott delivers the character so that within only the first few lines the viewer completely understands the man they’ll be watching:
Patton: The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.
Patton: Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that “we are holding our position.” We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose and we’re going to kick him in the ass. We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!
This is followed later on by one of the many gems in the dialogue:
Patton: Thirty years from now, when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, “What did you do in the great World War II,” you won’t have to say, “Well… I shoveled shit in Louisiana.”
Patton is a biopic but also an epic and once the film has been watched can this designation really be understood. Patton as an individual was an anachronism, a “pure warrior” as one German intelligence officer put it, and in life he expressed only ever a desire to embody the ideals of a true warrior. He believed in reincarnation and studied military history from the writings of Julius Caesar to even the notes of his contemporaries and enemies such as Erwin Rommel. In life he never possessed any political ambitions other than leading an army, though this did come to create conflicts for his career as he was often interviewed and monitored by military as well as civilian press. One such instance, which occurs in the actual film, was when he slapped a soldier suffering from battle fatigue. The film portrays Patton visiting soldiers in a field hospital when he talks to the soldier and the following scene unfolds:
Patton: What’s the matter with you?
Soldier Who Gets Slapped: I… I guess I… I can’t take it sir.
Patton: What did you say?
Soldier Who Gets Slapped: It’s my nerves, sir. I… I… I just can’t stand the shelling anymore.
Patton: Your *nerves*? Well, hell, you’re just a God-damned coward. [Soldier starts sniveling]
Patton: [Slaps him, once forehanded, then backhanded on the rebound]
Patton: Shut up! I won’t have a yellow bastard sitting here *crying* in front of these brave men who have been wounded in battle!
[Soldier snivels some more, and Patton swings a vicious forehand slap, knocking his helmet away]
Patton: *Shut up!* [to the doctors] Don’t admit this yellow bastard. There’s nothing wrong with him. I won’t have sons-of-bitches who are afraid to fight *stinking up this place of honor!* [to soldier] You’re going back to the front, my friend. You may get shot, and you may get killed, but you’re going up to the fighting. Either that, or I’m going to stand you up in front of a firing squad. I ought to shoot you myself, you god-damned… bastard! Get him out of here! [pulls his service automatic. At that, the doctors leap forward and hustle the soldier out of the tent. Patton keeps shouting at the soldier’s back] Take him up to the front! You hear me? You God-damned coward! [Takes deep breath] I won’t have cowards in my army.
This scene in the film is possibly one of the most dramatic because throughout the film Patton is presented as a true soldier, and almost a kind of father to the men he’s overseeing and commanding. That’s not to say his character is without fault, for while watching the film I was reminded something that has always bothered me about the character. While General Patton always speaks about the inherent nobility of soldering and battle there is something troubling about the way he revels in fights that he is almost always miles away from. There are numerous instances and scenes showing him overseeing the troops, and one of the best moments in the movie is when he actually enters a row of his troops marching and the viewer watches him interacting with his men, but the desire to conquer and win was clearly some kind of ego trip and should be looked upon as suspect.
The bloodthirsty nature of his personality is almost always apparent however and at one point Carl Malden playing General Omar Bradley says it best:
General Omar N. Bradley: There’s one big difference between you and me, George. I do this job because I’ve been trained to do it. You do it because you LOVE it.
It could be that I’m just being overly harsh. Patton was a man from a different generation, but it’s also important to remember his character as an individual being. General George Patton is played by George Scott as a man out of his own time; a man who should have been born in the ages of conquerors and heroes rather than the latter half of the twentieth century as generals were becoming political figures rather than warriors and soldiers. There was a time when I would watch Patton, mostly during puberty when my identity was angst ridden and possessed always by the idea that I was out of place, and relate tremendously with his character because like him I felt out of touch with the reality and society I was expected to become a part of. One of the most haunting moments is when Patton takes Bradley to the site of a Carthaginian ruin and describes the “memory” of being in this place centuries ago.
[Visiting an ancient battlefield]
Patton: The Carthaginians defending the city were attacked by three Roman legions. The Carthaginians were proud and brave but they couldn’t hold. They were massacred. Arab women stripped them of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun. Two thousand years ago. I was here.
It’s at this point the reader asks so what? What’s so important about a film from 1970 about some old war obsessed, history obsessed General? True it’s from World War II, but if there’s no battles why does it warrant any real attention?
First of all there are in fact several battles. The most in-depth of which takes place in Northern Africa. This scene holds value not only for Patton personally, seeing as how his leadership eventually ousted the Germans from Northern Africa, but also because it demonstrates his ability to defeat the leadership of Erwin Rommel the “Desert Fox” who was considered one of the finest military minds in all of the Third Reich. Little side note Rommel would eventually participate in the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler.
As for why the viewer should watch this film the simple reason is because it’s simply a beautiful film. In the contemporary cinematic landscape of the post-Avatar world, if a director wishes to accomplish an epic of grand scope that includes explosions, the movements of hundreds of people, and a coordinated battle sequences they would most likely rely exclusively on CGI. Even Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy relied heavily upon CGI for most of the battle sequences despite the fact he was able to fund hundreds of extras dressed up as orcs, Rohirrim, and the legions of Gondor. Patton might not wow audiences for the displays but it does spellbind the viewer who is willing to recognize that the stunts and arrangement of all of these figures was put in place and operated by one man. Franklin J. Schaffner is a director who during his lifetime directed a few films, but largely worked in television. His previous film should strike a familiar cord with the reader though seeing as how before Patton the man had directed Planet of the Apes.
The film is also an interesting opportunity to observe a young Francis Ford Coppola. His name might also sound familiar seeing as how he was the director of The Godfather, The Outsiders, Jack, and Apocalypse Now. At the time Coppola had written and produced a few films, and it would only be two years later before he would direct The Godfather and become the cinematic powerhouse he was to become.
Apart from these men, and apart from George C. Scott who would win best Actor for his performance and be one of the firsts to refuse to accept the award, the reason the viewer should take the time to see this film is simply because the film is beautiful to watch. Films about the military are not often able to be called beautiful because often their scenes are the battlefield which is a gore speckled, crater pocked landscape of death and terror. Patton takes the effort however of placing the soldiers within the landscape and culture of Europe and Patton himself is often situated in one of the numerous palaces of Europe. The modern warrior, with his brown uniform, is set amidst the Rococo and Baroque interiors and yet despite this Patton as a man is somehow greater and grander than all of it. In some ways placing Patton against these beauties of antiquity is an effort to demonstrate the “man out of time” motif that recurs throughout the entire film, but I think there’s still a deeper impression that the film offers.
At the end of the film Patton walks his dog Willie (originally William the Conqueror before he get’s scared off by an Englishwoman’s Pomeranian) for a walk in the German fields. There’s a scene of the man, walking his dog, set against the mountains that saw the likes of men like Frederick the Great and perhaps a few old Roman Conquerors, and while he walks beside a windmill George Scott offers a voiceover that closes the film:
Patton: [voiceover] For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.
Patton himself would never leave Europe. He died from injuries sustained during a car accident on December 21, 1945. There are some that have tried to construct a conspiracy theory around the man’s death, and while I do believe something stinks in that particular Denmark my job here isn’t to write about the “Hidden Hand.”
Patton is a film that continues to impress me because it is a brilliant presentation of an individual man. In terms of genre Patton is a biopic and a World War Two Film, but leaving it in those two categories would be doing it a grand disservice. Patton is art in the way it manages to convey completely another human being that, while we may not be able to identify with, we can still appreciate his character and know the world more deeply. Films that attempt to lay out humanity for what it is, both weakness, strength, idealism, and tragedy are rare because too often artists attempt to ham up aspects of individuality because they are either daunted by the task or unable to balance the factors accordingly. With a man like George Patton there was a tremendous capacity to fail miserably because the man from afar seems more like a cartoon character than a living breathing being tortured by the lack of fortune to be born just a few years earlier.
Instead of this cartoon character the viewer gets a real man, tortured by his own rashness and zeal, but who played so crucial a role in the victory over the Third Reich that he’ll be remembered forever always as “Old Blood & Guts.”
Here’s a small video that plays the audio of the speech Scott makes at the beginning of the film. I apologize that it’s only an audio but there’s no good video online that gives a good video. This speech is a bit of a bastardization of a real speech
I’ve also posted a link to a small essay “The Famous Patton Speech by Charles M. Province” about the famous speech that also goes into the character of Patton and how the film sanitized his profanity for American authors:
I’ve also found a website entitled George Patton.com and if the reader is at all interested in it here’s the link below:
I didn’t get a chance to include this in the bulk of the essay but at one point General Patton is overseeing the barracks in order to determine what is needed to improve the army. He enters the mess hall with his aid and the following scene transpires:
American GI Cook: Up bright and early, General? Uh, breakfast?
Patton: Am I to understand that my officers have already finished eating?
American GI Cook: Uh, well, we’re open from six to eight. Most of the men are just coming in now.
[Indicates two soldiers who enter the mess hall]
Patton: Please inform these men that the mess hall is closed.
American GI Cook: But sir, it’s only a quarter ’til eight.
Patton: From now on, you will open at six, and no man will be admitted after six-fifteen. Where are your leggings?
American GI Cook: Leggings? Oh hell, General sir, I’m a cook.
Patton: You’re a soldier. Twenty dollar fine.
[two more soldiers enter the mess hall. Patton looks them over]
Patton: Gentlemen, from this moment, any soldier without leggings, without a helmet, without a tie, any man with unshined shoes or a soiled uniform… is going to be skinned.
Biographia Literaria, Childe Harold, Don Juan, Don Juan de Marco, Epic, George Gordon Lord Byron, Poetry, Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Teaching Sexuality, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Dedication, The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, The Prelude, William Wordsworth
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE NORTH AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF ROMANTICISM. THE VERSION POSTED HERE WAS LATER ALTERED TO FIT THE ESTABLISHED AESTHETIC OF THE WEBSITE. PLEASE ENJOY THE ORIGINAL UNEDITED VERSION.
There’s a recurring question that springs to mind whenever I sit in the Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble in my little East Texas town and stare up at the mural of authors who all seem to have transcended time and space to have coffee alongside the hipsters: who the hell put Oscar Wilde next to George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, and Trollope? Seriously, is it any wonder that the man looks so damn bored? Wilde shouldn’t be surrounded by those Victorian fogies, he should be sipping gin with Truman Capote, Christopher Hitchens, Walt Whitman, and the one man who would almost certainly guarantee a good time, and who also happens to be the focus of this essay, George Gordon Lord Byron. The reason for such inclusion is simple, it’s fair to say that Bryon could be an absolute bitch when he wanted to be one. I use the word in the sense that Capote or Hitchens could bring out their inner “bitch” whenever someone at a dinner party decided to try and be cleverer than them and would often leave decimated by superior rhetorical ability. I know this is a platitude but sometimes I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall whenever Byron let loose one of those glorious aphorisms that sealed his entrance into hall of “Truly Spectacular One Liners,” if only to see and understand how it was that Rodney Dangerfield sealed his membership before the poet. Then again when you’ve starred in Caddy Shack, your “Immortality card” is pretty much secure. Unless you’re that blond kid who was the protagonist, and does anybody have any clue what happened to that guy?
The conflict with teaching and studying Byron is ever always his sexuality, and anyone who has ever taught underclassmen has known this pain. Before you can even begin She Walks in Beauty or Manfred, the question that always arises from the mouth of a student is “Wasn’t Byron gay?” To which case the only honest answer is “Shut up you knave I’m trying to inspire F@#%ING WISDOM IN YOUR BRAINS!”…though this may hurt your tenure track in the long run.
Now it’s important to recognize that being honest with students is vital to keeping them engaged with a work, and dismissal is the weakest tool in a teacher’s chest. Simply saying, “That’s not important” or “What you should be focusing on instead is…” isn’t going to keep a student paying attention because often the student that asks the question is already looking for an excuse not to bother or care about the poem. The best teachers in my experience will answer that question as best they can, replying that Byron was most likely bisexual because contemporary understandings of homosexuality are far different than they were two or three centuries ago. This is a way of answering the student’s question honestly, while also generating interest for students who may be gay or bisexual who are interested in reading the work of someone who shares their sexuality.
Handling Byron’s pickle fetish is one conflict for teachers, but the other problem was the man’s undaunted behavior. Lady Caroline Lamb created the stock phrase, yet accurate assumption of Byron, when she called him “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to know” and once again before we can even move forward it must be addressed why he acquired such a title. It wasn’t just that Byron slept with men and women, you also have to address his occasional boy-boffing, the pet bear he had while attending Cambridge, the numerous liaisons he had with women of high society, and worst of all his expulsion from England after it was “accused” of him that he was having an affair with his half-sister, and if any of your students are still listening and not rocking and reeling from the shock of all this then congrats you’re gonna have a fun semester.
I find it rather disappointing that Byron’s sex life is almost always the first topic of discussion whenever any conversations about the man’s work come into play. A good friend of mine, who threw away an incredible career as a historian to become an accountant, would always say first and foremost that both Byron and Wilde were slumbags and then usually change the subject quickly to discuss an obscure tactical move made by an even obscurer Prussian colonel before I could defend the actual poetry. Despite his character flaws, Byron is one of the most important poets of the Romantic period, not just because the man could string a few words together, but also because the man could write verse so complex in its construction and meter that it is still being discovered today. Byron’s work is a marvel worth the time, patience, and merit of those that would attempt to study it.
With that in mind I’ve decided to pass on that and discuss his Dedication in the epic Don Juan.
I’ve read passages from Child Harold, the poem that launched Byron to stardom overnight, and my initial reading lead me to the conclusion that, much like Paradise Lost and The Knights Tale, sometimes “Great Poetry” can be as painful as root canal surgery. I understand why we continue to study the poem, it establishes the blue print for the Byronic hero, at the same time however a great, and far more readable poem, is at many teachers and scholars’ disposal.
I began reading Don Juan because I had watched the film Don Juan de Marco starring Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando and about two Cantos in I began to realize this was the most approachable epic poem I had ever read. As I write this I realize that somewhere out there Homer just read that line and shed a single man tear, but screw him that boat chapter in The Iliad was torture. This ease was in no small part because of the fact that Byron is, for once it seems, enjoying poking fun at everyone and everything that deserves it in his estimation. The Dedication is to Robert Southey, who my reader will hopefully remember was the Poet Laureate of England at the time. Byron’s words speak for themselves, though I hope these first two stanza won’t require much explanation in terms of tone:
Bob Southey! You’re a poet—Poet-laureate,
And representative of all the race;
Last—yours has lately been a common case;
And now, my Epic Renegade! what are ye at?
With all the Lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like “four and twenty Blackbirds in a pye;
“Which pye being open’d they began to sing”
(This old song and new simile holds good),
“A dainty dish to set before the King,”
Or Regent, who admires such kind of food;
And Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumber’d with his hood,
Explaining Metaphysics to the nation—
I wish he would explain his Explanation.
If the phrase “sick burn” had been around I’m sure it would have been whispered between the smelly salons of Europe at this time (don’t forget they didn’t bath much). When I look back over this passage I can’t help but laugh because while Byron is being an absolute twat, the very fact that modern readers may appreciate that enrichens the experience. His line concerning Colerdige’s “explanations” is a reference to the man’s work in Biographia Literaria, and there again there is a liberation in the fact that there existed someone who possessed the courage to poke fun at one of the most brilliant minds of the Romantic Movement. Speaking of which, if one looks to the next two stanzas:
You, Bob! are rather insolent, you know,
At being disappointed in your wish
To supersede all warblers here below,
And be the only Blackbird in the dish;
And then you overstrain yourself, or so,
And tumble downward like the flying fish
Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
And fall, for lack of moisture quite a-dry, Bob!
And Wordsworth, in a rather long “Excursion”
(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages),
Has given a sample from the vasty version
Of his new system to perplex the sages;
‘Tis poetry—at least by his assertion,
And may appear so when the dog-star rages—
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the Tower of Babel.
Before I get into this it should be worth noting that the edition of Don Juan that I own there is a note after the “a-dry, Bob!” line. The explanation is too perfect to be paraphrased. I’m just gonna have to type it out. Please indulge me this once:
This ribaldry caused consternation among Byron’s friends in England, to whom the double entendre was obvious. In Regency slang “a dry Bob” meant coition without emission.
There’s a moment when you realize that Byron just published poem in which he says the Poet Laureate of England just shot off what now colloquially referred to as a “ghost load.” Not only that, he suggests the work of Southey amounts to a “ghost load” and if you’re not on board at this point then I’m sorry there’s not much more I can really do for you. Reading the Dedication is an experience so unusual to the studies of Romanticism for more often than not the Romantics are otherwise concerned with the Sublime, with memory, with emotional and psychological travesty resulting in despair, dejection, and something else that denotes misery that begins with “d.” Depression. Why couldn’t I remember that? It’s not only rare, it’s almost impossible to find such a text so rich with unabashed ribaldry and snark. If I may cite the fourth stanza where he moves on to Wordsworth’s Prelude, or “the brick.” I read The Prelude, or passages of it anyway, for the Romanticism course I took in the fall and Byron’s colorful description does not seem that far off the mark. The suggestion that, “I think the quarto holds five hundred pages,” may offend the seasoned Romantic who has spent the last six years writing an even longer book about such an immense and important work, but to the student who has to read those five hundred pages your emotions have suddenly become validated by a contemporary. Reading this criticism, and observing that I’m not the only one who read through that long poem scratching my head in places, has opened up the possibility to discuss if Wordsworth’s attempt to write in the language of common men truly succeeded.
The Dedication in my experience is more than just a chance for Byron to poke fun at Robert Southey and the Lake Poets, it’s an opportunity to discuss Byron outside of his sexual experiences. He becomes a political figure, a satirist, for ultimately Don Juan is a spoof of the persona that morphed and fashioned the man who resisted the image he created through his poetry. Byron was often compelled to satisfy the perception that he was the “Byronic hero” in his various poems and works, and no matter how hard he attempted to divorce himself from the public image, the masses would have their way. In the face of authority, tradition, and what can only be described as “Intense Britishness” Byron is playing, rather than attacking…actually no scratch that, Byron is attacking, but, there’s still the softened feature of jest in his works that is almost invisible in the remainder of his work. That in itself is significant.
His Dedication ends with a final address to Southey:
Where shall I turn me not to view its bonds,
For I will never feel them?—Italy!
Thy late reviving Roman soul desponds
Beneath the lie this State-thing breath’d o’er thee—
Thy clanking chain, and Erin’s yet green wounds,
Have voices—tongues to cry aloud for me.
Europe has slaves—allies—kings—armies still,
And Southey lives to sing them very ill.
Meantime—Sir Laureate—I proceed to dedicate,
In honest simple verse, this song to you,
And, if in flattering strains I do not predicate,
‘Tis that I still retain my “buff and blue”;
My politics as yet are all to educate:
Apostasy’s so fashionable, too,
To keep one creed’s a task grown quite Herculean;
Is it not so, my Tory, ultra-Julian?
Byron does not try to hide the contempt of English conservatism that is manifested, in his eyes, in the figure of Southey who has become, by his title, the face of institution. By accepting the “laurels” of such a position Southey has become Empire and tradition and politics and everything that should spell the end for artistic liberation for the self. One can almost hear Mark Twain’s Huck Finn in Byron’s final fleeing to England:
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
Byron ain’t headed West to fight injuns, smoke pipes, and not bathe like a “real man,” but he is escaping something. It may be he sees in the Lake Poets a rejection of what he feels poetry should be. Rather than titles and prestige, poetry is the honest expression of feeling, it’s the translation of the chaos of raw emotion into a functional communication of passion.
The Dedication may not at first glance offer much for professors and teachers of the Romantic period, but upon deeper examination it will certainly offer up more satisfying class time than having to explain that the person Byron’s addressing in When we Two Parted could be either a man or a woman but that’s not important because KNOWLEDGE DAMN IT!
I’ve selected passages of the Dedication from Poetry Foundation and included a link to the site here. Hope you enjoy:
In case the reader is at all interested, I censored myself in the beginning because I was not sure how NASSR would react at including profanity on their lovely clean website. I assure you dear reader that I have apologized and placed a quarter in the Swear Jar shaped like William Wordsworth’s head. I feel a quarter may be a little severe for dropping an F-bomb, but screw it I understand they’re…what? Ah. Apparently “screw” was too naughty for their taste and I’m now out fifty cents.