Unreal Nature

December 18, 2014

Unsolved

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… You can almost define a film by the problem it poses, that it can’t answer itself, that it then asks the audience to solve.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Murch: The [sound] mix is still the final stage at which any last opportunity can be seized or any last insoluble problem solved. If you’re lucky, and if you have the right approach, a certain blend of music and sound can sometimes solve problems that could not be solved in any other way. That’s part of the filmmaking process. Every stage leaves a residue of unsolved problems for the next stage — partly because the particular dilemma you’re facing cannot be solved in terms of the medium that you’re working in right then. For instance, at the script stage there may be issues that have to be left undecided, so the actors can have a fruitful ambiguity to work with. It would be deadly if you did solve all the problems in the script — you do not want to be asking for the gods’ help at every stage — because then everything subsequent would be a mechanical working out of an already established form.

[ … ]

Ondaatje: It’s an odd thing: I’ve heard you talk before about the importance of ambiguity in film, and the need to save that ambiguous quality which exists in a book or painting, and which you think a film does not often have. And at the same time in a mix you are trying to “perfect” that ambiguity.

M: I know. It’s a paradox. And one of the most fruitful paradoxes, I think, is that even when the film is finished there should be unsolved problems. Because there’s another stage, beyond the finished film: when the audience views it. You want the audience to be co-conspirators in the creation of this work, just as much as the editor or the mixers or the cameramen or the actors are. If by some chemistry you actually did remove all ambiguity in the final mix — even though it had been ambiguous up to that point — I think you would do the film a disservice. But the paradox is that you have to approach every problem as if it’s desperately important to solve it. You can’t say, I don’t want to solve this because it’s going to be ambiguous. If you do that, then there’s a sort of hemorrhaging of the organism.

O: And more of a confusion.

M: Yes. I keep thinking about it, and its a wonderful dilemma: you have to acknowledge that there must be unsolved problems at each stage. As hard as you work, you must have this secret, unspoken hope that one very significant problem will remain unsolved. But you never know what that is until the film is done. You can almost define a film by the problem it poses, that it can’t answer itself, that it then asks the audience to solve.

My most recent previous post from Ondaatje’s book is here.

-Julie

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