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Which Patton?

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 CD.

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 sonics.

Comments? Write us at: We thank guest writer Tom for this detailed column.

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