Unreal Nature

January 1, 2015

The Whole Eloquence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The only time one is able to exercise control over the film is in the editing.

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

[ … ]

Ondaatje: Gene Hackman as Harry Caul [in The Conversation] gives a remarkable performance of a guy who won’t reveal anything about himself, yet somehow we are magnetized by him. How does that work? I know when you were cutting The English Patient, you had a central character who was essentially in bed all the time — yet somehow you had to make him dramatic. I noticed that whenever you cut to him in the bed he’d be moving, in some small way, he wouldn’t just be lying still, he’d be shifting within the sheet or leaning forwards to get something, so he was very active while supposedly bedridden and static. When you edited The Conversation, did you do anything similar to make Hackman’s character so magnetic? It was a great performance!

Murch: Yes, it was. The very smart thing that Francis exploited is the human hunger for mystery: if somebody says, I’m not going to show you what’s under my hands, you become fixated on what’s under his hands. Even if you hunch is that there’s nothing, you won’t be satisfied until you’ve seen what is — or isn’t — under his hands.

And that’s what happens when you present somebody, like Harry Caul, who won’t tell you anything about himself. He has nothing in his apartment that will give any clue as to what’s going on inside him. His girlfriend, Amy, tries to get him to talk about himself and he says he’s a kind of freelance musician. Then she says the worst thing she could have said, which is: “I want to know about you.” That’s when he gets up off the bed and leaves.

[ … ]

M: … Shortly after I began [re-editing Touch of Evil], a friend asked, What are you up to these days? Oh, I said, I’m doing Orson Welles’s cut of Touch of Evil. And he said, You’re not doing anything, I hope, to the beginning of the film. I replied, That’s the first thing I’m changing.

A choking sound could be heard … I explained I was following Welles’s [written/archived] directions. There was a long silence. He said, That’s like hearing that God just called and said he wants to change the Bible.


[ … ]

O: One likes to think he [Welles] would be very pleased right now.

M: I hope so. He once said in an interview in Cahiers du Cinéma: “For my style, for my vision of the cinema, editing is not simply one aspect: it’s the aspect. The notion of ‘directing’ a film is the invention of critics like you [Cahiers du Cinéma]. It isn’t an art, or at best it’s an art only one minute a day. That minute is terribly crucial, but it occurs very rarely. The only time one is able to exercise control over the film is in the editing. The images themselves are not sufficient. They’re very important, but they’re only images. What’s essential is the duration of each image and that which follows each image: the whole eloquence of cinema is that it’s achieved in the editing room.

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




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