Patton (1970)

Patton won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1969, and picked up another six - Best Actor was famously declined by George C. Scott as the title character, but its makers took home awards for Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Original Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Art Direction. It lost Best Original Score to Love Story, Best Cinematography to Ryan's Daughter and Best Special Effects to Tora! Tora! Tora!

The other Best Picture nominees were Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story and M*A*S*H, none of which I have seen. IMDB users actually rate this the top film of 1970 on one system, but only 8th on the other, behind Ryan's Daughter, The Honeymoon Killers, M*A*S*H, The Aristocats, Love Story, Catch-22 and Rio Lobo. The other 1970 films I had previously seen were The Aristocats, Catch-22, The Railway Children, A Man Called Horse, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and that eternal if puzzling classic Dougal and the Blue Cat. The Hugo that year went to No Award (it was a weird final ballot).

Here's a trailer.

In case you had not guessed, this is the story of General George S. Patton and his campaign during the Second World War; we move from North Africa to Germany via Italy, France and Belgium with an excursion to England. This is the fifth or sixth Second World War film to win Best Picture (after Mrs Miniver and Casablanca, for which the war was a contemporary setting, and From Here to Eternity and The Bridge on the River Kwai, plus I think you'd have to count The Best Years of Our Lives as well). It's the fourth or fifth biopic (after The Great Ziegfeld, The Life of Emile Zola, Lawrence of Arabia and maybe you could stretch a point for A Man for All Seasons although it was adapted from a stage play).

I did not like it much. The central character is not very nice and not very interesting, and goes around fighting people, mostly but not always the enemy. It clearly appeals to a wide audience, just not me. I'm putting it pretty far down my list, just below Mutiny on the Bounty but above All the King's Men. I think I liked all the other films I had seen from 1970 more than this. (Yes, including Dougal and the Blue Cat.)

The star of the film appeared five years ago in Dr Strangelove, where George C. Scott was the militaristic general Buck Turgidson; the two characters are somewhat related.

We have two returnees from previous Oscar-winning films. Karl Malden is the secondary lead here as General Omar Bradley; he was the uncertainly heroic Father Barry in On the Waterfront, sixteen years ago.

Less prominently, Jack Gwillim is General Alexander here and eight years ago was the club secretary who tells Lawrence to smarten up in Lawrence of Arabia.

But my big casting surprise was to discover that this, as far as I know, is the only Oscar-winning film featuring a Doctor Who companion. (There are two with actual Doctors - Hamlet has Patrick Troughton and Peter Cushing, and A Man for all Seasons has John Hurt.) It's about as obscure a companion as you can get. Gerald Flood, who plays Air Chief Marshal Tedder here, went on to provide the voice for the shape-shifting android Kamelion, who appeared in two Fifth Doctor stories in 1983 and 1984. He appears onscreen in the first of them as the android double of King John of England.

This is a film mainly about white men. The good women of Knutsford get two speaking parts, neither credited. The occasional woman extra can be spotted in other scenes.

There is one credited black character, George Meeks, Patton's valet, played by James Edwards. He is one of the many secondary figures who Patton expounds to at great and tedious length. Sadly, Edwards died in January 1970, aged only 51, a month before the film was released.

As I guess I have made clear, my biggest problem with the film is the protagonist, who comes across as selfish and self-destructive. I also really don't like the make-up on his eyebrows.

I found Coppola's script rather stilted. It rather felt like there were boxes that had to be ticked - this is the scene where he has an argument about Sicily, this is where he slaps a convalescing soldier, this is where he insults the Russians - and writer and cast were just ticking them.

There were some points I liked as well. In general we are convinced that we are seeing North Africa and France rather than Spain and England. There is a good sense of geography, and the culture clash between Americans and Brits is not too overdone. The battle scenes are convincingly done and there is a sense of real danger and risk.

The point that appealed to me most is the film's treatment of French and German. I don't know how linguistically gifted the historical Patton was; Scott breakes into fluent French at several points, sometimes translated by context or bystanders, sometimes not. The scenes in German High Command are played by German actors speaking German to each other. I can't remember another Oscar-winning film that was this open to languages other than English (plenty of course are based on translated works). Admittedly there is no such latitude given for Arabic in the North African scenes.

Next up is The French Connection. I can only hope for better luck.

Normally I buy and read the books that each Oscar-winning film is based on. Patton is based on two books each of which is over 600 pages in length, so I am not going to bother this time; we are under lockdown here and I'd rather do things I know I will enjoy. For completeness, the second paragraph of the third chapter of Patton: Ordeal and Triumph, by Ladislas Fargo, is:
Though Georgie’s ancestry was as splendorous as any in America, he was somewhat apprehensive that it was not quite a match for the Ayers’ New England background. The Pattons’ aristocracy was the informal, relaxed, unsophisticated kind of nobility that seemed parvenu in proper Bostonian eyes. And Ayer was a Brahmin to the core.
And the second paragraph of the third chapter of A Soldier's Story, by General Omar N. Bradley, is:
After a 25-cent breakfast of canned bacon and powdered eggs in a tar-paper shack on the field at Dakar, we boarded our plane for the 1,400-mile flight north to Marrakech in French Morocco. We flew for hours over the bleak Sahara. But as we passed into Morocco, the snow-topped peaks of the Atlas Mountains rose steeply out of the desolate plains and we threaded a course through their passes. Beyond this mountain barrier, on its fertile northern slopes, Mar-rakech lay like a crystal city in the center of a green oasis. From the air its huge white mosques ballooned like giant mushrooms. We landed there, spent the night at the Arabesque Mamounia Hotel, and left early the next morning for Algiers in a cargo-loaded C-47.
If you want, you can get the film here, Fargo's Patton here, and Bradley's Story here.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can't Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman's Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King's Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970)
21st century: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
family, child

A week and a half under lockdown

So, we're on our tenth day of lockdown here - it started at noon on Wednesday 18th, and here we are at the end of the first full week under new conditions. And it has just been announced that the lockdown will be extended to 18 April.

New conditions for me, that is. A lot of people who I know were already working from home and had well-established routines. A lot of people weren't working at all. My wife and son are both full-time undergraduates at the local university, and they have shifted to fully online studies. I have colonised the spare room, brought home a box full of papers from the office (which I admit I still haven't looked through) and am managing the inward and outward flow of emails and ideas. We are not getting under each other's feet too much - Anne generally works in the study and the kitchen, and F in the living room, while I lurk upstairs. We have been able to speak to little U in her home via Skype; she clearly enjoys seeing us but doesn't really engage directly. (B would probably be baffled by any attempt to communicate with her that way.)

I do miss my work colleagues. The ordinary camaraderie of office life is actually a great stimulant for me; that you can just walk down the corridor or over to the coffee machine to pick someone's brains, rather than ping them via chat or email, which inevitably feels much more like an intrusion. We've had some great fun online get-togethers, but it is not the same. And I miss being able to pop out for lunch or a drink with professional contacts. I am sure I am not the only person compiling a long list of people to catch up with as soon as possible once this is all over.

We have become a much more interconnected world. On the first full day of working from home, I spoke to friends and colleagues in Japan, India, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA, and in my spare time I have been assisting the process of working out this year's Hugo final ballot, with the Hugo administrator in Michigan and the Worldcon itself in New Zealand, a difference of seventeen time zones. Worldcon made the tough decision to go virtual, in the grim expectation that travel restrictions will not have eased by July. Eastercon of course was cancelled.

I have been getting out for walks (or even once, a bike ride) almost every day. But I have not been reading as much - I have lost the reading time of my lengthy commute. On balance I do prefer being at home with my family, but my brain is still looking for the moments that it can switch to consuming the written word in a leisure environment. At the same time, I'm several books behind my usual habit of bookblogging here - part of that is because last weekend, when I would normally have caught up a bit, was consumed by the Hugos, but part of it also is that I haven't felt like doing it.

What I have been doing is a short series of video blogs about our village. I've done two so far (here and here) and have enough material in hand for several more. It's a work in progress, and I suspect I will come back to them and make Director's Cuts to make them look better. I find it quite difficult to go for pointless unguided walks, but a ramble that ties into a longer-term creative project makes a lot more sense. The videos don't seem to have the same popularity on social media as my more factual posts, but I must say that I am enjoying the creative process for its own sake.

The other source of great joy has been the two Doctor Who worldwide rewatches, of "The Day of the Doctor" last Saturday and "Rose" last night, organised by Emily Cook of Doctor Who Magazine and including in both cases the writers of the episodes, with thousands of people sharing fannish glee on Twitter. These have been wonderful experiences of shared international escapism. We're doing "Vincent and the Doctor" next, on Monday nght.

On the issue of the day: as far as I know, nobody in my family has (yet) been afflicted. Two friends in Belgium, and a colleague in London, have actually had COVID-19 and made full recoveries. The two in Belgium were not even tested, so they are not in the official statistics, but both are pretty clear that it's what they and their partners have had. The Belgian government is muttering about maybe reaching the peak at the start of April, which seems very optimistic indeed, though if you squint at the numbers you can just about see why they might think that is possible. A few other countries seem to be reaching the same point. We can but hope.

On the other hand, I'm desperately sorry to hear that the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, has been diagnosed with it; and we are going to see a significant toll of elderly victims (indeed, some not so elderly; the UK deputy ambassador to Hungary, a friend of several friends, was only 37). It's just appalling to watch the situation in the USA spiralling out of control; the narcissism of the current president is quite simply going to kill a lot of Americans, and in the end a weaker America is not good for the rest of us. Hopefully American voters will be realistic and vote for someone else in November, but I am not getting my hopes up. On top of that, the consequences in developing countries, where there are few tests, few ventilators and not much soap to wash your hands with, look to be truly catastrophic. The world at the end of 2020 will be very a different place. I do hope to see you there.

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Thursday reading

Excession, by Iain M. Banks
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
The Winged Man, by E. Mayne Hull

Last books finished
Ragged Alice, by Gareth A. Powell
The Survival of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson
Red Notice, by Bill Browder
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

Next books
Prophet of Bones, by Ted Kosmatka
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

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Miss Shumway Waves a Wand, by James Hadley Chase

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Myra Shumway had not been telling the truth when she described herself to Doc Ansell as a newspaper correspondent For the past five years she had been a "dip." If you don't know what that means, just stand on any street corner and flash a fat bank-roll. Before long some dame will take it off you and you'll know nothing about it until hours later. That dame was a dip.
This entertaining book is by a well-known writer of hard-boiled detective fiction, turning his hand for once to the paranormal. Miss Shumway has run away to Mexico; as well as being a stage magician she has developed real magical powers, and also turns out to have double trouble:
    Myra was becoming blurred. Her figure was smudgy, like a blurred photograph and even her features seemed to be dissolving.
      “What’s happening to you?” I exclaimed, feeling my heart pounding.
      She didn’t say anything, but just stood swaying before me. I could see something filmy in front of her. Something that moved. Then a shadowy figure stepped from her.
      You’ve seen those trick films where people become transparent? Well, that’s exactly how this figure looked. It sent my blood pressure up and gave me the scare of my life.
      As I watched, the figure became more distinct and then there she was—Myra the second, the spitting image of Myra except she was dressed only in white satin panties and brassiere.
      I knew it must be Arym. But, even seeing the two together, it didn’t make it possible.
      Myra backed away. She was as startled as I. Then she clutched at her frock and gasped.
      “You—you’ve got on my underwear!” she said.
      Arym admired her figure. “Well, I had to have something,” she returned airily. “After all we aren’t alone.” She looked at me archly. “Aren’t you staring a little too much?” she asked.
There's also a glorious sequence where a bad guy is transformed into a sausage and eaten by a dog which then acquires the powers of speech. It's not Great Literature but it's quite good fun. Two films were based on it - the French/Argentinian 1963 film Une blonde comme ça/Mi novia es otra and the 1995 Rough Magic with Bridget Fonda and Russell Crowe. I will look out for them. You can get the book here (though the whole text seems to be online here)

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September 2005 books

I both started and ended the month in Macedonia, visiting Slovenia and Serbia (including the Vojvodina) in between (I may also have taken in Kosovo at the start of the month - my notes are not clear). Most interesting for me was to be asked to speak at a meeting of the EU's COWEB working group (the diplomats working on the Western Balkans) alongside Carl Bildt and Goran Svilanović. I also had a new intern at work, A from Armenia, who was quite a character. We published three pretty important reports at work - on the EU police mission in Bosnia, the situation in Mitrovica in Kosovo, and the first of two reports on Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the biggest long-term development for me of the month was discovering LibraryThing, which has been a tremendous incentive for my OCD approach to reading books over the subsequent fifteen years and has helped me very much in writing this series of posts.

Books I read in September 2005:

Non-fiction 5 (YTD 34)
Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures), by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlethwait, and Andrew Thomson
The Alphabet, by David Sacks
Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture, by Apostolos Doxiadis
The Banovina, by Donka Stančić and Miško Lazović
The Truth About The Armed Conflict In Slovenia by Col. Nikola Popović, Col. Ivan Matović, and Lt-Col. Stanoje Jovanović

SF 7 (YTD 58)
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Sandman: The Dream Hunters, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Creatures of Light and Darkness, by Roger Zelazny
The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien
The Family Trade, by Charles Stross
The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis
Emerald Eye: The Best Irish Imaginative Fiction, ed. Frank Ludlow & Roelof Goudriaan

3,100 pages (YTD 34,000)
1/12 (YTD 24/106) by women
1 by PoC

Of these books The Third Policeman is one of my favourite books of all time; you can get it here. Of the books that were new to me, Emergency Sex has the best title and also is a gripping portrayal of life on the front lines of conflict and humanitarian aid. You can get it here. The Da Vinci Code is truly terrible. If you want, you can get it here.