A Comparison by Tom DeMary
Though many will use the old Fox LP as their reference for Patton,
there are in fact four soundtracks to Jerry Goldsmith's famous score. There
is the music you hear when you watch the film, as edited and dubbed with
the sound effects and dialogue (we'll call it ST, for soundtrack). The
same performance can be heard at full volume in stereo (before it was mixed
into the film) on the recent Fox laserdisc (we'll call it LD). There is
the old Fox LP, which was a re-recording for album release (we'll refer
to it as LP), and now there is Varese Sarabande's newly recorded CD (which
we'll call CD--Varese Sarabande VSD-5797).
Which is the "real" Patton music? Does it even make
sense to ask? Patton is a relatively simple case to explore the
subtle differences between the music dubbed in films, the original sessions
and album recordings.
The real model for the Patton score has to be the film, right?
Sure, more or less, but what a Patton score should be is complicated
by the fact that there was music recorded for, but not used, in the film
and music created for the album. The unused piece was called "The
Hospital," and versions appear on all the recordings. The new album
track is "Winter March" (LP), or "German March" (CD),
based on a theme heard in the film. With only two "floating"
cues, Patton is a simple case--all can be heard together. In general,
an album translation is not so simple, as there might have been many alternate
or unused cues which cannot necessarily be assembled in a logical fashion
for listening. A "fat" archival recording with all the extra
and unused tracks is always nice to get, but it is not usually something
to listen to straight through.
The new CD includes two pieces which are not on the LP, but it still
does not contain all of the dramatic score which is in the film. Missing
are a 50 second main title extension which accompanies the viewing of the
carnage at Kasserine Pass, 30 seconds of music at the beginning of "The
Hospital" cue, 70 seconds which accompany Patton's praying prior to
addressing the troops after slapping the soldier, 83 seconds underscoring
the "weather" prayer, and 79 seconds of the exit music. This
music is all on the LD.
These minutiae may be interesting, but completeness is far less important
than quality in determining what makes a good listening experience. In
film music one should also have some understanding of the use of the music
in the film. Listening to a film score cold, or with the wrong expectations,
may not make for a happy listening experience. In the case of Patton,
one sees that there is no "war" music until 2 hours into the
film, and even this music is used mostly in montage sequences, rather than
for capturing the action on the screen. The music in the first half of
the film is mostly quiet, underlining the religious side of Patton, his
belief in his past life experiences, and his sympathy for the wounded.
The music in "The First Battle" builds to the battle, but does
not depict it. "The Hospital" apparently ends just prior to the
slapping incident, etc.
The music in the first two hours of the film is heard at a rather low
volume, and the later battle music is overlaid with the sounds of war.
It is easy to appreciate the contribution of the music while watching the
film, but the low volume and noisy distractions do not encourage a close
listening to the score with the film. The LD does away with the dialogue
and noise of war, and presents the music at full volume. It is interesting
to be able hear the detail close up, but it becomes clear that many of
the pieces were not meant to be heard at full blast. This problem can be
easily solved by turning down the volume, but overall the presentation
lacks dynamic range--everything is pumped up to the same level, giving
a flattened sonic perspective, and the effect of the music is much less
emotional than in the film. Ironically, this is the opposite of the new
Aside from two additional tracks, the new CD has significant differences
from the old LP. The CD has a much greater dynamic range and restores the
film order of the music. This makes the CD seem much more like the presentation
in the film. Additionally the echoing of the trumpets is performed live,
rather than via the tape delay of the echoplex machine as in the ST and
LP. The dynamic range, the difference between the quiet and loud portions
of the music, is much than the LD or LP. I feel it is actually a little
too great. It is difficult to set a playback level which does not either
make the quiet portions too quiet or make the bass drum and timpani too
loud. An odd thing is that the playback levels are very much like the ST,
with the dialogue and sound effects removed. One usually supposes that
low music levels in a film are for placement of dialogue and sound effects,
but apparently Mr. Goldsmith prefers these relatively low levels. The LP
could not have been recorded with such low volume levels, or the effect
of the music would be lost in the surface noise.
It would seem as though acoustically performing the trumpet triplet
figures would be quite controversial, since the electronic echo was a novel
and memorable aspect of the film and album. However, I find that it does
not bother me at all, even though the effect is noticeably different..
What bothers me, is the much faster tempo of the triplets in the first
few tracks. I am used to hearing them more slowly paced, and they seem
a little odd, "speeding" over the slow tempo of some of the pieces.
The snare drums seem to be way off the beat at the beginning of "German
March," and there seems to be a bad edit at 1:33 in the piece. At
first I thought perhaps these effects were deliberate, done to make the
piece seem more ragged and stressed, making it more of a forced march,
than the "rousing march" described in the liner notes. However,
a comparison with the LP version forces me to reconsider, and suggests
that "German March" on the CD is in disarray.
I have not said much about the old LP. Ironically, it has the most pleasing
dynamics, but it now sounds thin to my ears, compared to the sound of the
LD or CD. Additionally the track order is jumbled, distributing the battle
music throughout the album. That probably makes the LP seem more "military"
than it really is. Fans who have been doting over the LP presentation,
instead of the film, for the last 25 years may be disappointed, even though
the CD restores a battle sequence omitted from the LP. Heard in proper
order, in a quiet listening environment, the first half of the CD conveys
a new, unexpectedly strange, ethereal atmosphere. The playing of the early
tracks also seems more delicate than before, in contrast to the vigorous
battle eruptions which follow. Although I have expressed some quibbles,
I think it is the CD which best captures the depth and subtlety of the
Patton score, but the LD is indispensable for a good wallow in vivid
Comments? Write us at: Whining@filmscoremonthly.com.
We thank guest writer Tom for this detailed column.