Here's one of the more interesting cross-disciplinary meetings of minds to hit book form in some time. In The Conversations, Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje talks about film editing with Walter Murch, one of the most important figures in post-1970 American cinema.That may seem an over-valuing of someone best known as an editor, but Murch was part of the late-60s gang at USC -- Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, John Milius. His editing credits include Apocalypse Now and The English Patient, but his most important contribution was the sound design for THX-1138, The Conversation, American Graffiti and Apocalypse Now.
In a series of long conversations recorded over a two-year period, Ondaatje and Murch, both highly intelligent and thoughtful artists, transcend the interview-book genre by following tangents, engaging in arguments, contextualizing everything and reminiscing.
Murch is both part of one of the most intriguing film movements in American cinema and someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the what and how of movies, more as a storyteller than as a technician.
For instance, when the helicopter rotors are heard in the background just before Kilgore announces, "Charlie, don't surf!" in Apocalypse Now, that's Murch's transition. Ondaatje functions as an interviewer but also as a contributor who has some history in cinema; he and Murch met on The English Patient.
Lots of interesting gossip and theory comes up. It's well known that Milius first offered Apocalypse Now to George Lucas as a low-budget production. Murch believes that when studio executives -- this was in the early 70s -- said it was too political, Lucas went off and made his own version of the story, Star Wars. This is the first time that theory has surfaced.
Including photos, index and filmographies, this is compulsive and compulsory reading for anyone in film school or interested in film history. Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE CONVERSATIONS: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (Vintage Canada), 348 pages, $34.95 paper. Rating: NNNNN