The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

“When it works, film editing — which could just as easily be called ‘film construction’ — identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface. Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestrating of all those patterns, just like different musical themes are orchestrated in a symphony. It is all pretty mysterious. It’s right at the heart of the whole exercise.” — Walter Murch

Canadian novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje conducted and wrote The Conversations after meeting Walter Murch, a sound and image editor with an incredible  filmography, who was at the time editing the film adaptation of Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient. The book is most focused on the mysterious role of the film editor (so mysterious, you’ll notice, that Murch’s IMDb page reveals no photographic evidence of his existence), but in understanding what makes a good editor you learn what makes a good story; the subtleties, the pacing, and the process of creating a consistent and lively atmosphere or tone. I’m not very far in The Conversations, but I’m really enjoying it.  The “conversations” between Ondaatje and Murch have a very casual feel to them, though they are also occasionally academic, and sometimes Zen-like (“The film acquired a body in the absence of these limbs,” Murch says speaking of the missing scenes he worked to add into Apocalypse Now Redux in 2000). There are also plenty of interesting pictures in the book, from Murch’s life and the films he’s worked on, and these photos lend the book a nice documentarian quality.

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