The Conversations — Michael Ondaatje


Michael Ondaatje got to know the film editor Walter Murch when Murch worked on the film version of Ondaatje’s The English Patient. He discovered a Renaissance man who is not only a brilliant film editor but a translator of a prose work he admires into English poetry and a creator of the musical flow of a movie. A good editor, working with a gifted and confident director, can shape the story of the film. Murch works with Lucas, Coppola, Minghella and other luminaries–the oldest relationships date from early days in film school–and has worked on legendary cinema like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and American Graffiti.

Ondaatje’s idea is that editing film is a lot like editing a novel, with its many iterations of revising and rethinking and carving away the words until the story emerges.  He explores this and other notions with Murch in a far-ranging series of  conversations that stretched over a year and covered a lifetime of distinguished work and invention. Lots of wonderful anecdotes about what stayed in and what got cut–and what went back in eventually. Even more intelligent chat about music (revolutiuonary Beethoven), strokes of genius (Thomas Edison) and the effects of extremely subtle sound on a movie audience.

It’s a very readable record and one I hope I find time to skim again before it goes back to the library. As a writer, I am fascinated by the observations and I can make the connections between the crafts. Much to learn from two people honored for their contributions to their professions who can critique Japanese and French New Wave filmmakers as easily as they share stories about Marlon Brando shaving his head after he read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Good book. Good idea to write it. A ton af great movie stills and archival photographs on every page. Recommended to novelists and cinephiles everywhere.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film   Michael Ondaatje | Alfred A. Knopf   2002

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