The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
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The Conversations is a treasure, essential for any lover or student of film, and a rare, intimate glimpse into the worlds of two accomplished artists who share a great passion for film and storytelling, and whose knowledge and love of the crafts of writing and film shine through.
It was on the set of the movie adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, that Michael Ondaatje met the master film and sound editor Walter Murch, and the two began a remarkable personal conversation about the making of films and books in our time that continued over two years. From those conversations stemmed this enlightened, affectionate book -- a mine of wonderful, surprising observations and information about editing, writing and literature, music and sound, the I-Ching, dreams, art and history.
The Conversations is filled with stories about how some of the most important movies of the last thirty years were made and about the people who brought them to the screen. It traces the artistic growth of Murch, as well as his friends and contemporaries -- including directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Fred Zinneman and Anthony Minghella -- from the creation of the independent, anti-Hollywood Zoetrope by a handful of brilliant, bearded young men to the recent triumph of Apocalypse Now Redux.
Among the films Murch has worked on are American Graffiti, The Conversation, the remake of A Touch of Evil, Julia, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather (all three), The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The English Patient.
“Walter Murch is a true oddity in Hollywood. A genuine intellectual and renaissance man who appears wise and private at the centre of various temporary storms to do with film making and his whole generation of filmmakers. He knows, probably, where a lot of the bodies are buried.”
said and the emotions that are being expressed. We've taken the line of development from the screenplay, and now it's being orchestrated into visual, spatial, rhythmic, and sonic terms. What makes it appealing is to show and to develop the ambiguities, and then, by the end of the scene or the film, to resolve them in some way. O: It would be fun to take this kind of frame structuring and apply it to screwball comedies, which are so sedate sexually but so anarchic in their physical slapstick
film participating in a different way? M: In film, there's a dance between the words and images and the sounds. As rich as films appear, they are limited to two of the five senses—hearing and sight—and they are limited in time—the film lasts only as long as it takes to project it. It's not like a book. If you don't understand a paragraph in a book, you can read it again, at your own pace. With a film, you have to consume it in one go, at a set speed. But if a film can provoke the audience's
also notice that after the mix many of the visual cuts from location to location were slightly foreshadowed by a sound cut: we could now hear the noise of sandpaper on stone, for instance, before we cut visually to the archaeologists in the desert, or there would be the soft clang of the metal spile Hana throws as a hopscotch token, evolving into the sound of Berber music, thus preparing us for a leap back in memory. This is, of course, the kind of craft that any careful writer uses as he or she
source music. My twist on the idea was having a track of the good sound too and then being able to fade between both, to have different proportions of one and the other, depending on where you wanted to be. If you were close to the band, you featured the live sound. Explaining what I wanted to do, and getting that through the machine of the studio, was a challenge. But the mixers actually got excited by it. They thought it was a good idea. O: Did you have control during the mix of The
for its own sake, of mobilizing large groups of people. Francis is a classic example of that. I'm just not—I'm a more solitary person. On a moment-by-moment basis, the state of mind that you're in when you're editing is probably very similar to the state of mind the writer is in when reorganizing material he's already written, and deciding what order to put it in and what to truncate. The advantage of writing and editing is that at any time you can stop what you're doing and walk around the