The Great Patton (version 2)

2022 August 03

A few years ago I was experimenting with unusual ways to combine videos. Casting about for movie clips to remix, I struck upon an idea: what if I combined one of the most famous movie speeches, from The Great Dictator, with the iconic film rendition of General Patton’s war speech, from Patton?

How to combine them was obvious: The Great Dictator, released in 1940, was in black and white, whereas Patton’s speech stands Patton before an enormous, vibrant American flag, so I took the luminance from the former and the color from the latter. I was unsatisfied with my first version of this (viewable at the link above; see technical details below for more information), so today I redid the video, with this result:

(Use headphones, as the audio is in stereo.)

The two speeches ostensibly concern the same topic, World War II, but they could not be more antithetical. Patton vividly portrays the gruesome brutality of war, using the bloody imagery to call the listening soldiers to aggression and violence. Chaplin’s speech, however, invokes abstract ideals of democracy, peace, and unity, promising to the civilian victims of war that it is but a temporary falling away from the path, and calling upon soldiers to engage in a metaphorical fight for liberty, peace, and happiness.

Patton

George Patton (1885-1945), nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts”, was one of the most successful and aggressive US Army generals in the European theater of World War II. In 1944, he gave a series of motivational speeches to US infantry preparing to fight in the war, arguably the most famous historical pre-battle speech. A literary analysis of the genre of battle speeches identifies key elements in the formula for such a speech:

  1. an opening that focuses on the valor of the men rather than the impact of the speech (the common trope here is to note how “brave men require few words”)

  2. a description of the dangers arrayed against them,

  3. the profits to be gained by victory and the dire consequences of defeat

  4. the basis on which the general pins his hope of success and finally

  5. a moving peroration; the big emotional conclusion of the speech.

While the essay focuses on the literary form as it was used in the classical era, the author does point out that Patton’s speech adheres to this same formula. The purpose is to steel the warrior’s courage to maintain cohesion even in extremis. Patton’s speech does this ably, tying violent descriptions of the terrors of combat with the urge to push onwards, aggress, and surmount these terrors through victory instead of retreat. While contemporary officers sometimes criticized Patton for his vulgarity and unprofessionalism, his speeches were hugely popular with the men they were intended for, for whom these horrors were visceral. And it is likely this contributed to his success as a general: “battles are not won by killing all of the enemies, but by making the enemy run away … battles are principally won in the minds of the combatants”1Source, which has more information on the role of generalship.. And it was not just in his speeches: Patton sought to inspire his troops with a deliberately cultivated image of a strong, decisive, capable leader through his uniform, his signature ivory-handeled pistols, his “war face”, etc..

The 1970 film Patton opens with Patton delivering his 1944 speech to the troops in front of a massive American flag, with the text abbreviated and lightly adapted to movie format (the line where he blasely observes “You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed” was one of those cut), as follows:

Be seated. Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans, traditionally, love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.

When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. Now, I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.

Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.

Now, we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world.

You know, by God, I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards. We’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.

Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken-out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do. [my video mix stops here]

Now, there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything – except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose, and we’re gonna kick him in the ass. We’re gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we’re gonna go through him like crap through a goose!

Now, there’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, “What did you do in the great World War II?” – you won’t have to say, “Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.”.

Alright now you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh, I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere. That’s all.

One more note: while the delivery in the movie is serious, rough, and gruesome, apparently the real 1944 speech was given with a much more light and humorous tone. While I doubt video of the original speech exists (Patton’s presence on the military base was a matter of high secrecy), his other speeches are filled with wry quips and delivered comedically.

The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator, released in 1940, was Charlie Chaplin’s first real talkie; filming had begun the previous fall, coinciding with the start of World War II. In the film Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977) plays both Adenoid Hynkel, a tissue-thin parody of Hitler, and an anonymous Jewish barber who is a victim of Hynkel’s persecution. The film largely carries on Chaplin’s characteristic slapstick style, alternating between Hynkel’s absurd megalomania and the barber’s bumbling naivete.

Inevitably, the identical-looking Hynkel and barber become interchanged, with Hynkel imprisoned and the barber ushered into the head of a military parade. At the very end of the movie the barber is compelled to address an enormous crowd of citizens from the newly conquered “Osterlich”. Here, the facade drops: it is not the barber, nor Hynkel, that speaks, but Chaplin himself. We do not see (much of) the crowd’s reaction, and the camera narrowly frames Chaplin’s face, for he is no longer addressing the people of Osterlich but directly talking to the 1940s movie audience – painfully cogniscient of the rising Nazi empire – calling for democracy, liberty, peace, and unity.

The common appearance of the barber and Hynkel parallels the real-life similarity between Chaplin and Hitler. Chaplin was acutely aware of this, as they were born just 4 days apart, and would sometimes ruminate on the whims of fate that made “he the madman, I the comic”. Indeed their resemblance, along with the false belief that Chaplin was jewish, had led to German censorship of Chaplin films: of course The Great Dictator was banned in occupied Europe, although it is believed that Hitler watched it twice.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an Emperor – that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible – Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die; and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers: Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel; who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers: Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, “the kingdom of God is within man” – not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers: In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Technical notes

When I had first made my mashup in 2019, I had extracted the red-green-blue pixel values (r_i, g_i, b_i) from the two clips and combined them like so:

r =
\begin{cases}
    r_1 \frac {r_0 + g_0 + b_0}{r_1 + g_1 + b_1} & \text{if } r_1 + g_1 + b_1 > 0 \\
    r_0 & \text{otherwise}
\end{cases}

The values were then clipped to the range (0, 255). Thus, the total intensity of the result r + g + b equals the intensity r_0 + g_0 + b_0, whereas the ratio of red to green to blue of (r, g, b) matches that of (r_1, g_1, b_1).

This approach has several problems: due to the clipping, colors with high saturation in the original stream 1 end up at maximum value in the result. Also, extreme artifacts occur in dark regions of the picture due to quantization near 0.

There is an additional concern, which contributes to the severe artifacts. Most video streams, including those I used as sources, are encoded in yuv420p format. This makes use of the Y’UV color space, instead of the RGB colorspace, in which Y’ is the gamma-adjusted luma of a point, U is the blue-yellow component, and V is the red-cyan component. The yuv420p format has four times the resolution (twice in both horizontal and vertical) in the Y component than the U or V components, as human perception is much more discriminating of variances in light levels than in hues.

However, most python libraries I have used for manipulating videos (moviepy and imageio being the two I have found best) do not permit manipulation of the raw video stream data, but instead convert everything to and from RGB implicitly. Thus the processing converts the videos from Y’UV to RGB, manipulates the RGB data, and then converts RGB to Y’UV, with each step introducing significant rounding errors and conversion losses2Each RGB value is a single byte from 0 to 255, and the conversion Y’UV <-> RGB is strongly nonlinear. Y’UV is optimized for human perception, which does not map very neatly to distinct RGB components..

More logical, then, would be to directly manipulate the Y’UV data, which was how I made version 2 of the video. On my first attempt I just used the Y’ data from The Great Dictator and the UV data from Patton, but was able to improve the result with some slight tweaking. The ffmpeg command I used for the processing was:

ffmpeg -i input/greatdictator.webm -i input/patton.webm \
    -i input/patton_denoise.wav \
    -filter_complex FILTER \
    -map '[vid]' -map '[aud]' \
    ENCODING_OPTIONS \
    output/greatpatton.mp4

I have three inputs, which are the two videos, and an audio file taken from the Patton video and processed with sox to remove static. These are passed through a filter, resulting in a video stream and audio stream which are assembled into an output file. The ENCODING_OPTIONS are simply some flags for optimizing the output for youtube:

ENCODING_OPTIONS='-c:v libx264 -profile:v high -level 4.2 \
    -crf 17 -tune film -movflags +faststart'

The filter itself was produced by joining together 7 linear filters with semicolons. Let us explain each one at a time:

[0:v]extractplanes=y,
trim=start=5.5:duration=201.5,
scale=1440:816,
pad=1440:1080:-1:-1,
setsar=sar=1,
setpts=PTS-STARTPTS[y1]

Take the video stream from input 0 (The Great Dictator), extract the Y’ plane, cut a clip from it (with length 201.5 seconds, starting from 5.5 seconds), and adjust the resolution to match the other video. Adjusting the video is done by scaling it and then padding with black. The last filter, setpts=PTS-STARTPTS, changes the stream’s timestamp so that the clip starts from 0 seconds instead of 5.5 seconds (it’s not clear if this is necessary but I think it makes merging the streams later more reliable).

[1:v]trim=start=66.5:duration=201.5,
setpts=PTS-STARTPTS,
extractplanes=y+u+v[y2][u][v]

Take the video stream from input 1 (Patton), cut a clip from it, fix the timestamps, and then extract the Y’, U, and V planes.

[y1][y2]mix=weights=0.93 0.07[y]

Mix 93% of the stream y1 with 7% of the stream y2. The eye is very sensitive to small changes in luminance, and having just a hint of the luminance from Patton makes it much easier to distinguish features. The outline of the uniform, the stars on the helmet, the medals, the features of the face, etc. all suddenly pop out distinctly when they were completely invisible without this.

[y][u][v]mergeplanes=0x001020:yuv420p,
eq=contrast=1.5:saturation=2[vid]

Merge together the monostreams y, u, and v to make a single stream in yuv420p format. The contrast is heightened as The Great Dictator had mostly intermediate greys, and the saturation also increased to make the flag more vivid.

[0:a]atrim=start=5.5:duration=201.5,
pan=1c|c0<c0+c1,
volume=volume=3.5,
asetpts=PTS-STARTPTS[a0]

Take the audio stream from input 0, cut a clip, average the two channels into one channel with pan, and boost the volume by 3.5.

[2:a]atrim=start=66.5:duration=201.5,
pan=1c|c0<c0+c1,
asetpts=PTS-STARTPTS,
afade=t=in:d=2[a1]

Likewise with the audio stream from input 2, adding two seconds of fade in so that the opening trumpet (which is in the middle of a longer fanfare) is not so blaring.

[a0][a1]amerge[aud]

Combine the two monochannel audio streams into a single stereo stream.


  1. Source, which has more information on the role of generalship.↩︎

  2. Each RGB value is a single byte from 0 to 255, and the conversion Y’UV <-> RGB is strongly nonlinear. Y’UV is optimized for human perception, which does not map very neatly to distinct RGB components.↩︎

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