The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
by Michael Ondaatje
The Ins and Outs of the Cutting Room
A review by Scott Esposito
In The Conversations, novelist Michael Ondaatje speaks with legendary film
editor Walter Murch, the man who cut such landmark films as The Conversation,
The Godfather I and II, and Apocalypse Now, as well as last
year's Jarhead. Playing off of each other, the two men free-associate their
way through an intriguing mix of film history, trivia, and theory.
Ondaatje and Murch start with the past, discussing the early days of Zoetrope,
Murch's fateful encounter with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Murch
recounts how Coppola was able to use Martin Sheen's drunken rehearsal to create
Apocalypse Now's unforgettable opening scene; he also provides intriguing
gossip on how the director turned an overweight, hostile Brando into Colonel
Kurtz. Murch goes on to explain exactly how he re-edited Orson Welles' Touch
of Evil in accordance with an unearthed 58-page memo scribbled to Universal
Studios during Welles' one and only screening of his maligned masterpiece.
These conversations offer much more than just behind-the-scenes details. In
a discussion of the nuts and bolts of his craft, Murch explains how he transforms
over 100 hours of footage into a comprehensible two-hour film. He details why
he considers Beethoven and Flaubert to be the true forefathers of cinema, as
well as how Edison's early experiments with film dictated the future of the
medium. Packing a wealth of information into a series of compulsively readable
dialogues, The Conversations requires repeat visits.
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