Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Michael Ondaatje: The Conversations: Walter Murch And The Art Of Editing Film

In a little more than 100 years, film has assumed such a profoundly influential role in world culture that it's sometimes difficult to remember that it's still a nascent and developing art form. Editing remains perhaps filmmaking's most mysterious and unperfected craft, because it's really the only one unique to the medium; all others have roots in earlier arts, such as photography, literature, music, and painting. No one is more attuned to the hidden rhythms and meanings of cutting than Walter Murch, whose extraordinary filmography includes work on Apocalypse Now, the Godfather trilogy, The Conversation, American Graffiti, The English Patient, and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. His paperback essay, In The Blink Of An Eye, has become an editing Bible for neophytes and veteran filmmakers alike, and his expertise extends to both picture and sound, which are usually separate disciplines. But in The Conversations, a handsome and illuminating dialogue between Murch and author Michael Ondaatje, even he confesses that "cinema is perhaps now where music was before musical notation—writing music as a sequence of marks on paper—was invented." Murch believes there's a sophisticated mathematics to film editing, one that operates on both a conscious and subconscious level, but it hasn't been fully discovered or explicated yet, leaving cutters to puzzle out solutions based on instinct and primitive theory. Ondaatje met Murch while adapting his novel The English Patient to film, and he was impressed by how the editor radically (and meaningfully) restructured the film's chronology, which features more than 40 jumps in time. Based on five lengthy exchanges in 2000 and 2001, the book invites immediate comparison to François Truffaut's famous Hitchcock and its most recent derivative, Cameron Crowe's Conversations With Wilder. If anything, The Conversations is the deepest and most intellectually expansive of the three, because it opens up so naturally into Murch's other fascinations, which include classical music, architecture, history, and translating obscure Italian poetry. Ondaatje touches on Murch's membership in Francis Ford Coppola's influential Zoetrope collective, unpacks some of the groundbreaking sequences from films like The Conversation and The Godfather, and discusses in detail the painstaking work of re-cutting Apocalypse Now and reconstructing Touch Of Evil from Orson Welles' original notes. In addition to a thoughtful selection of stills and frame pulls, the book inserts several speeches and essays, including Coppola on The Rain People, George Lucas on THX-1138, Anthony Minghella on The English Patient, and Murch himself on editing actors. At times, the language can seem a little abstract and theoretical, but only because Ondaatje and Murch are so driven to explore the complex, underlying systems that govern the editing process, which they in turn translate for an unsuspecting audience. By the nature of their craft, great editors like Murch are destined to labor in obscurity, because few can recognize their skill, and even fewer are inclined to acknowledge it. If nothing else, The Conversations works to redress the balance, revealing the nimble hands behind some of the most significant films of the last three decades.