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The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

by Michael Ondaatje

Thought about film editing lately? As the guy who leaves the cuttings on the cutting room floor, Walter Murch has given the final shape to a host of seminal American movies – including The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and The Godfather and its sequels. And as the subject of Michael Ondaatje’s offbeat, exhilarating new book, he makes poetry out of an arcane, invisible craft.

Murch and Ondaatje met and became friends on the set of The English Patient, and The Conversations results from five talks between them over the course of a year. The book will naturally appeal to film buffs – Murch went to film school with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and provides a glimpse of one of the more iconoclastic periods in American cinema in the early 1970s. But readers with even a passing interest in the movies should find many pleasures here. Along with Murch’s fascinating explanations of how the sounds and images of movies are assembled, the book offers a fly-on-the-wall view of two extremely intelligent and articulate men comparing their artistic passions.

Ondaatje has always written like a filmmaker – by composing scenes, then later knitting them together in the editing stage. For Ondaatje, editing can be as creative as the first impulse to get something down on paper or film. And Murch, too, makes it clear he can have just as much input to the finished film as the director, if not more: he’s dealing with imagery, patterns, and attempts to express the deep structures of a created work. Both are kindred spirits who share their delight in the artistic process, and the fact that tearing a work of art apart frequently makes it better.

The Conversations should be required reading for every aspiring writer – and anyone else involved in learning to shape a work of art.


Reviewer: Devin Crawley

Publisher: Vintage Canada


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 384 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-676-97474-0

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2002-9

Categories: Art, Music & Pop Culture, Children and YA Non-fiction