The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

I just finished reading The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient). If you’re at all interested in film or video editing then this is a fabulous read.

As some of you will know, Walter Murch is a legendary film editor (three time Oscar winner) and sound editor. His conversations with Ondaatje reveal a lot about his creative process and provide great insight into modern filmmaking.

What surprised me the most about Murch is that he likes to isolate himself from outside influences when editing. He says this about his creative process:

Some filmmakers, when they’re at home, love to have many television monitors going, showing films all the time, so their home is peopled by classic films, part of the atmosphere, to foment the creative activity. To me, that’s an impossible way of living—by my own lights, it’s ultimately destructive of the creative process. Things become too self-refential—look at what’s happened to modern painting or modern music in the twentieth century. All new compositions refer to previous compositions in arcane ways. You build an incredible sand castle, a house of cards with references within references within references. You can see it happening now with films, and I don’t know if it’s such a good thing. It’s fun occasionally, but not as a steady diet.

Murch’s creative process is the complete opposite of director Steven Soderbergh who says in one film commentary:

Godard is a constant source of inspiration. Before I do anything, I go back and look at as many of his films as I can, as a reminder of what’s possible.

I’d have to agree with Murch in that popular culture has become incredibly self-referential, formulaic and quite often, dull.

Posted in Books at 3:05 PM