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

Walter Murch is one of the most respected film editors and sound designers, one of New Hollywod's central figures, having worked with Francis Ford Coppola in, for example The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) and George Lucas in THX 1138  (1971) and American Graffiti (1973), in addition to having taken part in the restoration of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil from the notes that he had sent to Universal. He also edited The English Patient (1996) an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's famous novel. During several years, Murch and Ondaatje reunited for a series of interviews in which both discussed their crafts and the similarities they observed in editing and literature. Those interviews were collected in The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. In it, Murch comments some of the scenes in certain films that he worked, and shows an enviable knowledge of painting, music, among other arts and the intellectual parallels that can be found in cinema.
"Murch: (...) in the first Godfather, when Michael is saying good-bye to Kay. She's saying, “Maybe I could come with you.” He replies, “No, Kay, it's family, there will be detectives, you just can't.” And suddenly the framing has shifted, suggesting that something is wrong. Even though he's still facing her, and being nice to her, the framing says the opposite. He's being pulled by something behind him, something that is going to take him away from her. It's easy for him, in this new composition, to move away from her, into the empty space that's on the right side of the frame…."

"Ondaatje: The thing is, the structure in a book allows the reader a more meditative participation than film. Because we are not bound by time. The experience of a book is not finite. The reader can “investigate” the given story and look back and pause and qualify the material. But I suspect you see the viewer of a film participating in a different way?
Murch: 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."

"Murch: We look at ancient Egyptian painting today and may find it slightly comic, but what the Egyptians were trying to do with the figure was reveal the various aspects of the person's body in the most characteristic aspect. The face is in profile because that reveals the most about the person's face, but the shoulders are not in profile, they're facing the viewer, because that's the most revealing angle for the shoulders. The hips are not in profile, but the feet are. It gives a strange, twisted effect, but it was natural to the Egyptians. They were painting essences, and in order to paint an essence you have to paint it from its most characteristic angle. So they would simply combine the various characteristic essences of the human body. This was a piece of spiritual art. It wasn't trying to reproduce photographic reality, it was trying to reproduce and combine all the essential features of a person within one figure. 
That's exactly what we do in film, except that instead of the body of the person, it's the work itself. The director chooses the most characteristic, revealing, interesting angle for every situation and every line of dialogue and every scene. He then overshoots that material and gives the editor an additional range of choices."

Link to the complete book in PDF:


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