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The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

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The Conversations is a treasure, essential for any lover or student of film, and a rare, intimate glimpse into the worlds of two accomplished artists who share a great passion for film and storytelling, and whose knowledge and love of the crafts of writing and film shine through. It was on the set of the movie adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patien The Conversations is a treasure, essential for any lover or student of film, and a rare, intimate glimpse into the worlds of two accomplished artists who share a great passion for film and storytelling, and whose knowledge and love of the crafts of writing and film shine through. It was on the set of the movie adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, that Michael Ondaatje met the master film and sound editor Walter Murch, and the two began a remarkable personal conversation about the making of films and books in our time that continued over two years. From those conversations stemmed this enlightened, affectionate book -- a mine of wonderful, surprising observations and information about editing, writing and literature, music and sound, the I-Ching, dreams, art and history. The Conversations is filled with stories about how some of the most important movies of the last thirty years were made and about the people who brought them to the screen. It traces the artistic growth of Murch, as well as his friends and contemporaries -- including directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Fred Zinneman and Anthony Minghella -- from the creation of the independent, anti-Hollywood Zoetrope by a handful of brilliant, bearded young men to the recent triumph of Apocalypse Now Redux. Among the films Murch has worked on are American Graffiti, The Conversation, the remake of A Touch of Evil, Julia, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather (all three), The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The English Patient. "Walter Murch is a true oddity in Hollywood. A genuine intellectual and renaissance man who appears wise and private at the centre of various temporary storms to do with film making and his whole generation of filmmakers. He knows, probably, where a lot of the bodies are buried."


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The Conversations is a treasure, essential for any lover or student of film, and a rare, intimate glimpse into the worlds of two accomplished artists who share a great passion for film and storytelling, and whose knowledge and love of the crafts of writing and film shine through. It was on the set of the movie adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patien The Conversations is a treasure, essential for any lover or student of film, and a rare, intimate glimpse into the worlds of two accomplished artists who share a great passion for film and storytelling, and whose knowledge and love of the crafts of writing and film shine through. It was on the set of the movie adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, that Michael Ondaatje met the master film and sound editor Walter Murch, and the two began a remarkable personal conversation about the making of films and books in our time that continued over two years. From those conversations stemmed this enlightened, affectionate book -- a mine of wonderful, surprising observations and information about editing, writing and literature, music and sound, the I-Ching, dreams, art and history. The Conversations is filled with stories about how some of the most important movies of the last thirty years were made and about the people who brought them to the screen. It traces the artistic growth of Murch, as well as his friends and contemporaries -- including directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Fred Zinneman and Anthony Minghella -- from the creation of the independent, anti-Hollywood Zoetrope by a handful of brilliant, bearded young men to the recent triumph of Apocalypse Now Redux. Among the films Murch has worked on are American Graffiti, The Conversation, the remake of A Touch of Evil, Julia, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather (all three), The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The English Patient. "Walter Murch is a true oddity in Hollywood. A genuine intellectual and renaissance man who appears wise and private at the centre of various temporary storms to do with film making and his whole generation of filmmakers. He knows, probably, where a lot of the bodies are buried."

30 review for The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This is just a fantastic book about film editing from one of the professions masters. Murch is not only a great editor but he edited amazing films including The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (amazing, of course, in no small part, thanks to Murch's contributions.) Hearing the behind-the-scenes stories on these films and others is really fantastic but what makes this book so much more than the typical film history book is that Murch connects filmmaking to so many different disciplines--painting, This is just a fantastic book about film editing from one of the professions masters. Murch is not only a great editor but he edited amazing films including The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (amazing, of course, in no small part, thanks to Murch's contributions.) Hearing the behind-the-scenes stories on these films and others is really fantastic but what makes this book so much more than the typical film history book is that Murch connects filmmaking to so many different disciplines--painting, literature, music, astronomy, to name a few. Murch is an intellectual but his observations are made from practical experience of the craft of filmmaking rather than a cinephile's theories based only on the finished product. Thus the grounded ideas that fill this book are fresh, elegant, and useful, the product of a lifetime of study and experience. (Since I'm so steeped in film knowledge, it's hard for me to tell whether this is a book that can be enjoyed by the general public but I'm guessing that it can because the writing is in dialogue form and very straightforward.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thaisa Frank

    Two disclaimers: First, I'm recommending this book as a writer and not as a film editor or screenwriter. Second: I thoroughly resonated to this book because it mirrors the way I write and revise. Having made these disclaimers, this is a book that I am recommeding to all my students. If you aren't a writer who works in a linear manner (and even if you are) this book, in which a film editor explains the way he works, is like listening in on the silent conversations writers often have with themselv Two disclaimers: First, I'm recommending this book as a writer and not as a film editor or screenwriter. Second: I thoroughly resonated to this book because it mirrors the way I write and revise. Having made these disclaimers, this is a book that I am recommeding to all my students. If you aren't a writer who works in a linear manner (and even if you are) this book, in which a film editor explains the way he works, is like listening in on the silent conversations writers often have with themselves when they work. The only thing that's different is that Murch is excited and exuberant. Many writers think they should have organized things from the beginning and berate themselves for having to wade through chaos. Writers are a little like weavers, working on the wrong side of the cloth. They have to look on the other side to see what the reader will see. Walter Murch, a film editor, has the advantage of looking at the "other" side of the cloth for the first time. But at the stage he sees the film, the "other" side is chaotic without obvious highlights--full of jewels in the midst of a lot of detritus. As you read this, you realize that it's Murch who has created the final version because he assembles the jewels into a coherent necklace. He even makes things into jewels that aren't obvious and discards some that are. (Just as you discard the sentences you're in love with.) He is generous when talking about his techniques and so is Ondaatje. Hence it really is an audible rendition of writers' silent conversations. Without question this is a book that will be fascinating to many people--whether they are in the arts or not. It's really a visible discussion of a creative process that is usually hidden and silent, whether you compose, sculpt, paint, write, invent, or find a spin on Goeddel's theorem. Without being a polemic, it debunks the notion that a creative work has to start as a coherent whole. (At times, of course, the whol does come all at one. But so much of the time the creative process is a switchback trail.) Murch talks about many films, ranging from The English Patient to Rear Window to Apocalypse Now. It's fascinating to see the journey from the first shoot to the final film. Ondaatje often compares his own process to Murch's, weaving in a writer's perspective. Nonetheless, this should appeal to everyone interested in films, conversations, and the alchemy of the creative process.

  3. 5 out of 5

    RH Walters

    I loved this book so much! Exhilarating conversation between two great talents that I tried to enthusiastically describe to other people over dinner. It's an enormous treat to anyone interested in film. I ate it up like butter on toast but for some reason I abandoned the last 10 pages for 2 years, which is why it's languished on my reading shelf -- in this stop-motion time of latter pandemic/endless winter I finished it today. I loved this book so much! Exhilarating conversation between two great talents that I tried to enthusiastically describe to other people over dinner. It's an enormous treat to anyone interested in film. I ate it up like butter on toast but for some reason I abandoned the last 10 pages for 2 years, which is why it's languished on my reading shelf -- in this stop-motion time of latter pandemic/endless winter I finished it today.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    This book is full of so much wisdom and information. I recommend watching, Godfather, The Conversation, Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, and The Talented Mr. Ripley then read this book to find out why they're as amazing as they are. This book is full of so much wisdom and information. I recommend watching, Godfather, The Conversation, Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, and The Talented Mr. Ripley then read this book to find out why they're as amazing as they are.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    I spent a month savoring these discussions between Ondaatje and Murch. I don't think I've ever been so reluctant to return a book to the library. Michael Ondaatje continues to amaze, and I have a new person to very much admire in Walter Murch. So many gems in here about the mysteries of creating art, of life in general, somehow put into words. Paradoxes, sound as light, ambiguity, editing. . . this book is a treasure trove of insights that have helped me with my own creative process, and understa I spent a month savoring these discussions between Ondaatje and Murch. I don't think I've ever been so reluctant to return a book to the library. Michael Ondaatje continues to amaze, and I have a new person to very much admire in Walter Murch. So many gems in here about the mysteries of creating art, of life in general, somehow put into words. Paradoxes, sound as light, ambiguity, editing. . . this book is a treasure trove of insights that have helped me with my own creative process, and understand why I love the films, books and poetry I do. (This book also added about 10 films to my must-watch list.) Michael Ondaatje: "That's probably one reason I don't reread my books after they come out. So that my memory of Anil's Ghost or The English Patient or In the Skin of a Lion is of my emotional relationship to the book just before it came out. You are hanging fire. You don't know if it's going to work out or not, but this is the best you can do at this point. After that, as Wordsworth said, it may or may not be pudding . . . " Walter Murch: "Yeah. It's important to hold fast in this hanging-fire state. That's the only thing, in the long run, that will allow the true lessons to emerge. It may take years for you to recognize them."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Micole Williams

    Really enjoyed this visually as well as the interviews. What a collaborative process filmmaking is. There are so many analogies that give life to what happens before, during and after a production. This book associates the set of a film with a “beehive”. The role of the editor, often is quieter in all the buzz. But this book wants to acknowledge this “master lens”. Walter Murch happens to be an editor who has worked on projects that “have become central to the culture of our time.” He is describ Really enjoyed this visually as well as the interviews. What a collaborative process filmmaking is. There are so many analogies that give life to what happens before, during and after a production. This book associates the set of a film with a “beehive”. The role of the editor, often is quieter in all the buzz. But this book wants to acknowledge this “master lens”. Walter Murch happens to be an editor who has worked on projects that “have become central to the culture of our time.” He is described as a “true oddity in the world of film”...who also lives “outside the film world”. This was another assigned MFA reading and our screenwriting cohort actually got to chat with Walter Murch on Zoom this week. With his editing career, my question for him was based on his color-coded system mentioned early on in the book. I wanted to know more about what that looks like for him and how it translates in his work. He graciously, meticulously and thoroughly shared his screen to show his process. The book is also like that. Very candid and technical. If you are a visual artist or a writer, you can appreciate this gem and apply it to your own work to enhance your own craft. When done, it's also a nice coffee table book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hugo B. Hugo

    Interesting foray between a novelist and an editor but too much time is spent on gossip and irrelevant details and not enough on the craft! I'm being harsh because in comparison to the Fine Cuts European Editors book, there is little philosophy or heartfelt passion from these boomer millionaire artists. Interesting foray between a novelist and an editor but too much time is spent on gossip and irrelevant details and not enough on the craft! I'm being harsh because in comparison to the Fine Cuts European Editors book, there is little philosophy or heartfelt passion from these boomer millionaire artists.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex Thompson

    One of the two best books on filmmaking - this and Sidney Lumet's Making Movies is all one needs to know. One of the two best books on filmmaking - this and Sidney Lumet's Making Movies is all one needs to know.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dirk

    I feel stingy for not giving The Conversations five stars, but it ends too soon, and I wanted these two brilliant artists to just keep exploring together.

  10. 4 out of 5

    G.M. Burrow

    Fascinating and so, so inspiring. Now I want to edit films and I’m in awe of all those silent, unthanked magicians who have made it look so effortless.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Such a fascinating read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    My co-worker (who majored in film) recommended Walter Murch's book In the Blink of an Eye to me, but while researching that book on here a lot of reviewers seemed to recommend this one instead, since it covers a lot of the same material plus a whole lot more. This book will leave you in awe of Walter Murch, not just as a genius of film and sound editing, but as a true Renaissance man with interests in science, music, poetry, etc. I especially recommend this book to my fellow cartoonist friends, My co-worker (who majored in film) recommended Walter Murch's book In the Blink of an Eye to me, but while researching that book on here a lot of reviewers seemed to recommend this one instead, since it covers a lot of the same material plus a whole lot more. This book will leave you in awe of Walter Murch, not just as a genius of film and sound editing, but as a true Renaissance man with interests in science, music, poetry, etc. I especially recommend this book to my fellow cartoonist friends, since there's a surprising amount of crossover between editing film and writing and drawing comics. I also recommend reading it in small doses (I read it every day on my lunch break, usually 5-10 pages at a time), so you can soak it all in.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gerald

    I don't usually like Q&A-style interviews, but this book is a notable exception because it's more like eavesdropping on a private conversation between two very savvy colleagues. Murch has some original and intriguing things to say about the ways he approaches his art (like theorizing that movie music reinforces an existing emotion--rather than inspiring one). Here's looking forward to his next book--the one in which he posits his notational scheme for cinema. It sounds like a crackpot idea, rath I don't usually like Q&A-style interviews, but this book is a notable exception because it's more like eavesdropping on a private conversation between two very savvy colleagues. Murch has some original and intriguing things to say about the ways he approaches his art (like theorizing that movie music reinforces an existing emotion--rather than inspiring one). Here's looking forward to his next book--the one in which he posits his notational scheme for cinema. It sounds like a crackpot idea, rather like that musical I wisely never wrote in which each instrument corresponded to a different bodily function. I suspect Murch can deliver on his dream, if anyone can.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Ross

    A series of conversations with a true film genius. March's wisdom is not exclusive to cinema and as such, the connections he makes from science, art and history into his filmmaking are profound, revelatory and wholly unlike anything you've ever studied in relation to the art. The specific, behind the scenes anecdotes from films like the Godfather, Apocalypse Now and English Patient are in themselves, very interesting and full of great lessons to be learned. A must read for any filmmaker. A series of conversations with a true film genius. March's wisdom is not exclusive to cinema and as such, the connections he makes from science, art and history into his filmmaking are profound, revelatory and wholly unlike anything you've ever studied in relation to the art. The specific, behind the scenes anecdotes from films like the Godfather, Apocalypse Now and English Patient are in themselves, very interesting and full of great lessons to be learned. A must read for any filmmaker.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Great fun read between a now deceased author and the editor who cut some of the greatest movies made in the modern film era, including one of the author's own stories, The English Patient. I loved every page of it and never wanted it to end. Great fun read between a now deceased author and the editor who cut some of the greatest movies made in the modern film era, including one of the author's own stories, The English Patient. I loved every page of it and never wanted it to end.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Parkhurst

    Fascinating, poetic, philosophical look at the Art of Film Editing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    This a non- fiction book interviews the movie editor Walter Murch, it talks about how important does editing means in a movie, and what kind of effects will shows by different editing. He talks about the experiences he been through his career and it gives the readers an idea of a revolution of editing. In a different era and time periods, editors invent different style and ways to edit video clips. It gives different effects to the audience, from a single cut and putting all the clips together, This a non- fiction book interviews the movie editor Walter Murch, it talks about how important does editing means in a movie, and what kind of effects will shows by different editing. He talks about the experiences he been through his career and it gives the readers an idea of a revolution of editing. In a different era and time periods, editors invent different style and ways to edit video clips. It gives different effects to the audience, from a single cut and putting all the clips together, to putting sound effects, combine different clips. Walter Murch has been through a lot of big events for editing videos, and he demonstrates a positive and good attitude by sharing his experiences and encourage any editors to try new things. He gives an idea of the difference between director, mixer, editor, and screenwriter. They all have different jobs and difficult parts, and they are how a film begins. Reading the conversation with Walter Murch, the lovers of film and students who want to learn editing learns a lot of information on the timeline of how film forms and change.

  18. 4 out of 5

    M.

    Took my time learning about the editing techniques of one of Hollywood's unsung heros: Walter Murch. The conversations between Ondaatje and Murch are amazingly detailed and make you feel like you are sitting with them as you try to interrupt the conversation with your own brief and unspectacular (at least in my case) quips. I had to see these films again or for the first time after reading this book, including The English Patient, The Conversation, Rain People, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Tou Took my time learning about the editing techniques of one of Hollywood's unsung heros: Walter Murch. The conversations between Ondaatje and Murch are amazingly detailed and make you feel like you are sitting with them as you try to interrupt the conversation with your own brief and unspectacular (at least in my case) quips. I had to see these films again or for the first time after reading this book, including The English Patient, The Conversation, Rain People, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Touch of Evil (the remastered original by Welles). If you enjoy reading about the artistry of film, you will enjoy it. Not to be read quickly, The Conversations should be taken in small bites. Because of the pandemic, I've held on to this library copy since March and it has been a pleasant friend all these months.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Collin Hotchkiss

    If you're at all interested in filmmaking as an art or a craft, read this book. Murch is one of the few contemporary film theorists with a platform, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an editor who hasn't been influenced by his work. Film editing may be "cutting out the bad bits", but it takes a lot of thinking to know which bits are bad. Murch has certainly done a lot of thinking about the subject, and his thoughts are worth your time. If you're at all interested in filmmaking as an art or a craft, read this book. Murch is one of the few contemporary film theorists with a platform, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an editor who hasn't been influenced by his work. Film editing may be "cutting out the bad bits", but it takes a lot of thinking to know which bits are bad. Murch has certainly done a lot of thinking about the subject, and his thoughts are worth your time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Started reading this earlier in the year and only recently got around to finishing it. I have no idea what too me so long, other than that I didn't want it to end. Murch is such a remarkable individual to spend time with, and his insights into filmmaking are by turns both obtuse and unfailingly accurate. Looking forward to revisiting this like a daily devotional going forward, it's just so rich with insight and perspective on the medium. Started reading this earlier in the year and only recently got around to finishing it. I have no idea what too me so long, other than that I didn't want it to end. Murch is such a remarkable individual to spend time with, and his insights into filmmaking are by turns both obtuse and unfailingly accurate. Looking forward to revisiting this like a daily devotional going forward, it's just so rich with insight and perspective on the medium.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lincoln

    For anyone who has ever spent endless hours in a small dark room attempting to create screen magic from inadequate raw footage this book offers a glimpse into the true Art (capital “a” fully intended) of film editing. It’s a craft at which Walter Murch is clearly a master - he worked on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now - but his deep knowledge of script-writing, cinematography, sound engineering, film history, music and philosophy make these conversations with Michael Ondaatje much more than dis For anyone who has ever spent endless hours in a small dark room attempting to create screen magic from inadequate raw footage this book offers a glimpse into the true Art (capital “a” fully intended) of film editing. It’s a craft at which Walter Murch is clearly a master - he worked on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now - but his deep knowledge of script-writing, cinematography, sound engineering, film history, music and philosophy make these conversations with Michael Ondaatje much more than discussions about editing - rich with unique insight and thoughtful observation. You’ll never watch a movie in quite the same way ever again.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sean Baity

    Easily worth $100 for anyone doing any sound design or editing in any medium. The gems and tricks he doles out are fantastic and true. Great tidbits from all the films he worked on. Changed my understanding of what a film editor is capable of. He’s funny, inspiring, modest, and bold- highly recommend. Now i have to read his, “In the Blink of an Eye” book!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Schoen

    “A film is born three times—in the writing of the script, in the shooting, and in the editing.” Walter Murch is a real renaissance man, as interested in art, philosophy, and science as he is in film. I could listen to him all day.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nick Escobar

    Murch is one of the most talented editors in the history of film. "The Conversations" delves into Murch's thoughts on sound, editing, directing, writing and all of the myriad aspects of filmmaking. A great read for anyone who makes films. Murch is one of the most talented editors in the history of film. "The Conversations" delves into Murch's thoughts on sound, editing, directing, writing and all of the myriad aspects of filmmaking. A great read for anyone who makes films.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Rimmer

    This book feels like reading a transcript of a longform podcast...and it's as thrilling as you can imagine that to be. There no doubt gold in here, but there's bound to be better ways to spend your time mining it elsewhere. Didn't bother finishing. This book feels like reading a transcript of a longform podcast...and it's as thrilling as you can imagine that to be. There no doubt gold in here, but there's bound to be better ways to spend your time mining it elsewhere. Didn't bother finishing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Great book ! A must for Editors and Filmmakers. Some good practical techniques for editing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jessrawk

    Gorgeous & fascinating.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Serin Lee

    Works as a wake-up call and creative bible.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    I really loved this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys the intricacies of filmmaking - for that matter, read this book if you like making stuff, period.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bennett Rosner

    Had some decent insight on Apocalypse Now. Not suggested unless you have seen most of the films mentioned in the book (i.e "The Godfather", "The English Patient", "Return to Oz", etc.). Had some decent insight on Apocalypse Now. Not suggested unless you have seen most of the films mentioned in the book (i.e "The Godfather", "The English Patient", "Return to Oz", etc.).

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