Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Patton and Fast Times

I watched Patton a couple weeks ago. The DVD began with Francis Ford Coppolla on a couch. I had to fast-forward through it, pushing the button, since under the DVD's menu system, the interview was part of the movie itself, not a separate feature. As a result your dense correspondent was made aware, by force, that Francis Ford Coppolla wrote the screenplay. Patton is the triumphal story of a brilliant commander and seems to fit snugly in the camp of movies about great heroes in good wars. But it's also a Coppolla movie and foretells the darker depiction of war in Apocalypse Now. What connects them is insanity. The movie Patton is an absolute nut. He reads Rommel's book on tank battle tactics before going to bed. Looking over a great valley, he hears the explosions from the Carthaginians' brave stand against the Roman legions. Omar Bradley tells him, "I do this because I was trained to do it. You do it because you love it." The movie is full of great lines. During a tank battle, Patton shouts, "Rommel you magnificent bastard. I read your book!" The 1970s were the golden age of great movies about not-great people, and Patton, from 1970, marks the transition, bridging the tough, heroic World War 2 movies like Bridge on the River Kwai with the dark 1970s take seen in Apocalapyse Now or The Deerhunter.

I left Fast Times at Ridgemont High off of my five favorites list earlier this year. I don't know how this happened. I think memory loss and confusion may be side effects of Lunesta. Fast Times was on cable TV a couple weeks ago and it never gets old. The brilliance of Cameron Crowe is his subtle, documentarian's interest in getting the quiet stuff just right. In reference to an old teacher, one teenager says to another, "You had Deegan?" Mike Damone's lines, such as "this is great iced tea!" and "I come here for the strudel," are not funny lines, but they are absolutely right for the character, who is very sharply drawn, as are many others. I've come across others over the years who know every line in the movie. It's a concatenation of episodes and it's remembered for the funny ones and the sexual ones, but what really sets it apart is the artistic freedom given to the writers and actors to create vivid, subtle, realistic characters. An added bonus: Jeff Spicoli has two mostly mute pals. Look closely and they are Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards!

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Widescreen Special Edition)