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The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film Hardcover – September 17, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ask most moviegoers, "Who is Walter Murch?" and they're likely to stare uncomprehendingly. Ondaatje (The English Patient) seeks to eradicate that ignorance by providing an expert analysis of Murch's consummate film editing skills, and pointing out along the way the monumental contributions editors make to motion pictures. Murch, a three time Oscar winner and integral collaborator on such cinematic milestones as The Godfather, Julia, The English Patient and American Graffiti, attended the University of Southern California with George Lucas and bonded early on with UCLA film student Francis Ford Coppola. A relative neophyte, he worked on Coppola's The Rain People and a low-budget sci-fi picture, THX 1138, which has since become a cult classic. Murch adhered to a rule of not watching other movies while concentrating on a project of his own, calling himself a "queen bee who gets impregnated once and can lay millions of eggs afterwards." Through his eyes, and Ondaatje's remarkably insightful questions and comments, readers see how intricate the process is, and understand Murch when he says, "The editor is the only one who has time to deal with the whole jigsaw. The director simply doesn't." He also offers insightful thoughts on Orson Welles, Marlon Brando and Fred Zinnemann. Although Murch claims the actors on his films rarely know who he is, this excellent, eye-opening book done in a question-and-answer format will make readers glad Ondaatje has shown them the significant role he plays behind the scenes. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Editing is an often invisible part of the filmmaking process; the audience tends not to be aware how the editor's eye has crafted a film. Ondaatje reveals some of its mystery through several conversations with Murch, the editor of The Conversation, The English Patient, and Apocalypse Now and Redux. In the late 1960s, Murch, along with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (who describes Murch as "strange like me"), helped form Zoetrope, the independent company where films like THX 1138 and The Godfather were born. Murch finds his own profession difficult to accurately describe, comparing quirks in actor dialogue to signs in the wilderness that only a hunter might detect. Ondaatje and Murch walk the reader through key scenes from several films, providing a glimpse into the editing process; the origins of his masterful re-edit of Orson Wells' Touch of Evil are particularly fascinating (especially for film buffs). These conversations allow readers a peek behind the curtain to reveal a man as mysterious as his art. Carlos Orellana
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375413863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375413865
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harvey S. Karten on September 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Someone once said, "Film editing is a wonderful arcane art, like
mosaics. I love to watch it being done, but editors hate to be
watched." Just as editors like to work away from the gaze of
would-be supervisors, we in the audience are often not aware of
the important the work of these people behind the scenes. How
many times have you seen a review comment on the editing, and
if it praise or belittles the way the film is cut, how often is the
responsible editor named? In his new book "The Conversations,"
author Michael Ondaatje has transcribed a series of talks with
Walter Murch, considered by many to be without peer in the
profession. The 59-year-old Renaissance man, as involved in
trying to prove the Titus-Bode theory on the spatial intervals
between planets and a translator of Italian poetry, has been
instrumental in creating the sounds and the cuts of films such as
"American Graffiti," "The Conversation," "The Godfather I,II, III,"
"Julia," "Apocalypse Now," and "The English Patient."
In introducing this seminal work on Walter Murch, Ondaatje
informs us that Murch, like other editors, is concerned with a
film's pace, of course, but even more with the moral tone of a work
which has to do with speed, background noise, even how the
antagonist may turn away from a conversation. Recall how many
films have the editor cut away from a character before he finishes
speaking. This could be because the editor encourages the
audience to think only about the face value of what the character
has said.
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Format: Hardcover
Like the reviewer below, I was skeptical of the Q&A format - an approach that often tends to elicit fairly superficial dialog in the realm of film (with some notable exceptions, including the classic Hitchcock/Truffaut book). This is fine for a magazine article, but potentially painful for 300+ pages. That said, this book really surprised me - and within only a few pages I was totally hooked. Ondaatje manages to spur on a delightful conversation filled with some very profound insights on editing, filmmaking, and the creative process itself (with many interesting detours along the way). I think this book can be enjoyed by both amateur film enthusiast and cynical cinephile alike. To be honest, I found the book to be a better articulation of Murch's ideas than his own "In the Blink of an Eye" -- though I would still recommend that as a secondary text to Conversations. I would also suggest that anyone reading this try to see Murch's major works first: The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, the Godfather I & II, and the English Patient - as they are all referred to in fairly significant detail throughout the book, and it will make for a more enjoyable read if you're familiar with them.
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Format: Paperback
The film editor is the great unsung hero of the filmmaking process. After all, during the annual Oscar ceremony, the award for Best Film Editing seems to be hidden away between bad production numbers and some indecipherable technical award. As directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Anthony Minghella constantly receive praise for their creative visions, it is obviously the film editor's onerous task to make sense of that vision and capture the key moments and sounds that define it. Film editor and sound designer par excellence, Walter Murch, is the subject of this endlessly fascinating book, which chronicles a series of five extensive conversations he had with Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English Patient". They met on the set of that film, one of many fine films Murch has edited, and Ondaatje was so struck by his personality and methods that he decided to write this book. In fact, Ondaatje was bowled over by how Murch could draw lines connecting the most disparate things in the cosmos: philosophy, technology, science, music, literature, art, languages, sound theory. Murch can locate the impulse of a film in the symphonies of Beethoven or in the way he views painting and architecture. He knows of what he speaks as his track record is very impressive - "Apocalypse Now", all three parts of "The Godfather", "American Graffiti", "Julia", "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", "The Talented Mr. Ripley", and the list goes on.

This intriguing book also explores the dynamic relationship between film editing and writing, which means Ondaatje is in a unique position to provide insight into his own methods.
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Format: Paperback
Walter Murch may be the greatest film editor alive, having cut classic works by Coppola (THE CONVERSATION, THE GODFATHER PARTS I, II, and III, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE RAIN PEOPLE), Minghella ( THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, COLD MOUNTAIN), Kaufman (THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) and Zimmermann (JULIA). The novelist Michael Ondaatje, whose best-known novel THE ENGLISH PATIENT was adapted by Anthony Minghella into another a film cut by Murch, had the fine idea of sitting down for a series of conversations with Murch to ask him about his little-understood, important, and intelligent art form. The result is one of the greatest series of extended conversations on film since Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock. Part of the pleasure of the book is getting not only to see Murch's complex work described but also getting to know him as a personality: considered one of the most intelligent men in Hollywood, he comes across not only as exceptionally erudite but also unpretentious and honest. Ondaatje may be the ideal interlocutor for Murch because he is so beautiufully versed in film history and in Murch's work; his many asides about his own writings may allow him to come across at times as a bit self-enamoured, but they do allow the reader the multiple pleasure of having a major figure in world literature give insights into his own work as we also hear about Murch's. One of the best delights the book offers is ample illustrations of the examples Murch and Ondaatje discuss, which are drawn from literature and the other arts and humanities as much as they are from film: one of the best is when the book offers side by side comparisons of the first draft and final version of Elizabeth Bishop's great villanelle "One Art," which is itself a celebration of the art of editing. It is rare to see a non-academic book about film that takes its readers' intelligence for granted. As such, it is genuinely a book everyone seriously interested in film should own.
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