FILM

George S. Patton’s spooky reincarnation as George C. Scott

LARRY ZOLF May 1 1970
FILM

George S. Patton’s spooky reincarnation as George C. Scott

LARRY ZOLF May 1 1970

George S. Patton’s spooky reincarnation as George C. Scott

FILM

LARRY ZOLF

Patton: A Salute To A Rebel

is a true cinema epic of Heroes and Hero Worship. Fortunately for director Franklin J. Schaffner and scriptwriters Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, General George S. Patton, Jr. lived his life as if he had a future Hollywood epic in mind.

In his tale there is all the gore and glory of the Seven Samurai, and, alas, all the frailties of the Seven Dwarfs. Patton liberated 12,000 cities and towns and captured 81,500 square miles of territory. His tank tactics were a decisive factor in the destruction of the Nazi empire in Europe. Yet this same man slapped a shell-shocked soldier and branded him a coward, stated that the run-of-themill Nazi was no different from the average Democrat or Republican and called for a preventive war against the Soviet Union while she was still our ally.

Schaffner’s film does not gloss over these incongruities, and portrays Patton warts and all. Patton was a classical scholar, a poet and mystic who firmly believed in the doctrine of reincarnation. If he were to return in a Hollywood guise, Patton would just have to come back as George C. Scott. For Scott is Patton incarnate in a superb acting performance that rescues the film from some of Schaffner’s more pedestrian directing devices.

Indeed, Scott of late seems to have forgotten where his film portrayal of Patton has left off and real life has begun. He has gone on television, bitterly attacking critics who have dared to criticize the film. He has also issued

statements attacking the “herd instincts” of modern youth and calling for a return to the 16th-century romantic individualism of ivory - handled, gun - totin’ General George S. Patton, Jr.

I suppose, in Scott’s defense, we could only say that Patton would have wanted it that way. The old rascal once said, “Compared to war all forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Compared to Scott’s brilliant performance, all forms of recent Hollywood endeavor shrink to equal insignificance.

Zabriskie Point is a thoroughly engrossing film, exquisitely photographed and edited. Its images and juxtapositions have an implosive, dreamlike effect, pushing the film’s theme along in an almost lyrical, poetic flow. Here there are none of the elusive claustrophobic subtleties of La Notte or Blow-Up. In Zabriskie Point, director Michelangelo Antonioni has important points to make and he doesn’t want anyone to miss them. His plot devices and delineation of character are elusively simple. A young student radical is involved in the killing of a policeman during a campus disturbance. He steals a plane and flees to Death Valley. There he meets a young woman in flight from the sterile values of a daily commercial existence in the American megalopolis. Their encounter is brief; he returns to the city where he is gunned down by triggerhappy police. She drives off to places or destinations unknown.

These are the skeletal ingredients of Antonioni’s latest allegory. The Italian radical

who survived Mussolini’s fascism obviously sees its renaissance in polarized America today. Antonioni makes his points in sharp, swift strokes. In one scene a laconic cop asks an arrested campus radical his occupation. “Social professor of history,” the radical replies. “Too long,” says the cop. “I’ll just put down ‘clerk’.” The eerie, desolate wastes of Death Valley are central to Antonioni’s apocalyptic vision. The American empire, like the Egyptian and Roman Empires before it, will crumble and decay. The desert beckons and at the end of it, no promised land, but only crucifixion awaits. But with crucifixion comes redemption

and the beginnings of new life. In one memorable scene, as the student radical and the girl make love in the desert, they fantasize hundreds of other young couples joyously making love in the sand dunes around them. The scene has a gossamer, balletlike effect and yet, somehow, Antonioni makes them all look like the original creatures who climbed out of the ooze millions of years ago, the amoebas of a new cycle of life after death.

Zabriskie Point is both a superb film and an ominous exercise in un-American activity. Beside it, Easy Rider and Medium Cool seem merely the rude posturings of thumb-sucking infants. □