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Pearls from artists* # 521

“Raconteur,” soft pastel in sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

But on the whole, I’m taking into consideration, at the point of the cut, where the audience’s eye is and what direction it’s moving, and with what speed. The editor has to imagine the audience’s point of attention when the film is projected, and has to be able to predict where ninety-nine percent of the audience is looking at any moment… I have to be able to say with some certainty that at such-and-such a moment ninety-nine percent of the audience will be looking at this point on the screen, and in the next second they will be looking here. That means that their eye is travelling, say, left to right, to the upper corner of the frame, at a certain speed. If I choose to cut at this point – at frame 17 – I know that at that moment their eye is right here, in the Cartesian grid of the screen.

That’s a very valuable piece of information. When I select the next shot, I choose a frame that has an interesting visual at exactly that point, where the audience’s eye is at the moment of the cut, to catch and redirect their attention somewhere else. Every shot has its own dynamic. One of the editor’s obligations is to carry, like a sacred vessel, the focus of attention of the audience and move it in interesting ways around the surface of the screen.

This is exactly what I do as I work to compose my pastel paintings! – BR

In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 520

“Keeper of the Secret,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″ image, 60″ x 50″ framed

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Ondaatje: Do you think success and failure can distort the lessons an artist is able to learn?

Murch: There’s that wonderful line of Rilke’s, “The point of life is to fail at greater and greater things.” Recognizing that all of our achievements are doomed, in one sense – the earth will be consumed by the sun in a billion years or so – but in another sense the purpose of our journey is to go farther each time. So you’re trying things out in every film you make, with the potential of failure. I think we’re always failing, in Rilke’s sense – we know there’s more potential that we haven’t realized. But because we’re trying, we develop more and more talent, or muscles, or strategies to improve, each time.

In The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 495

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Murch: …There’s a wonderful quotation from Goethe – he must have been frustrated at some point about the difficulty of communication. He said, “Utterly futile to try to change, by writing, someone’s fixed inclination. You will only succeed in confirming him in his opinion, or, if he has none, drenching him in yours.”

Ondaatje: There’s a poet in Vancouver who said, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

M: Exactly. I’m sure Goethe didn’t think that way most of the time, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept on writing. He was talking in black-and-white terms: Agree with me or not! The richest zone of communication is the grey area… where the reader is somewhat receptive to what the author writes but also brings along his own images, and ideas, which in a creative way do violence to the author’s vision and ideas. A synergy results from what the writer presents and what the reader brings. That communication, initially present in neither the sender nor the receiver, is greater than the message of the writer alone or the thoughts of the reader alone.

It’s similar to what happens with human sight. Your left eye sees one thing and your right eye sees something else, a slightly different perspective. They’re so close and yet different enough that when the mind tries to see both simultaneously, to resolve their contradictions, the only way it can do so is to create a third concept, an arena in which both perspectives can exist: three-dimensional space. This “space” doesn’t exist in either of the images – each eye alone sees a flat, two-dimensional view of the world – but space, as we perceive it, is created in the mind’s attempt to resolve the different images it is receiving from the left and the right eye.

In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 491

Barbara’s studio with work in progress

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

We look at ancient Egyptian painting today and may find it slightly comic, but what the Egyptians were trying to do with the figure was reveal the various aspects of the person’s body in the most characteristic aspect. The face is in profile because that reveals the most about the person’s face, but the shoulders are not in profile, they’re facing the viewer, because that’s the most revealing angle for the shoulders. The hips are not in profile, but the feet are. It gives a strange, twisted effect, but it was natural to the Egyptians. They were painting essences, and in order to paint an essence you have to paint it from its most characteristic angle. So they would simply combine the various characteristic essences of the human body. This was a piece of spiritual art. It wasn’t trying to reproduce photographic reality, it was trying to reproduce and combine all the essential features of a person within one figure.

Walter Murch in The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 489

Book Cover

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Murch: …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: the whole eloquence of cinema is that it’s achieved in the editing room.

In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 486

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox
Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

Walter Murch: Somebody once asked WH Auden, is it true that you can write only what you know?” And he said, “Yes it is. But you don’t know what you know until you write it.” Writing is a process of discovery of what you really do know. You can’t limit yourself in advance to what you know, because you don’t know everything you know.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 485

New York City

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

[Michael] Ondaatje: It’s an odd thing: I’ve heard you talk 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.

[Walter] Murch: 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 cameraman or 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 got 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 it’s 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 will be until the film is done. You can almost define a film by the problem it poses, that it can’t answer itself, that it asks the audience to solve.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 484

Behind the scenes of our documentary. Photo: David De Hannay

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

[Walter] Murch: We hope we become better editors with experience! Yet you have to have an intuition about the craft to begin with: for me, it begins with, Where is the audience looking? What are they thinking? As much as possible, you try to be the audience. At the point of transition from one shot to another, you have to be pretty sure where the audience’s eye is looking, where the focus of attention is. That will either make the cut work or not.

[Michael] Ondaatje: So before you make the cut, if you feel the audience is looking towards point X, then you cut to another angle where the focus of attention is somewhere around that point X.

The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

This passage in Ondaatje’s book resonates because I work similarly to refine and construct each pastel painting. My goal is to move the viewer’s eye around in an engaging and interesting way. This part of my process is subtle so I suspect that most of my audience neither appreciates nor even suspects that I have done it.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 483

Behind the scenes of our documentary. Photo: David De Hannay

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The editor has a unique relationship with the actors. I never try to go on to the set to see the actors out of costume or out of character – and also just not to see the set. I only want to see what there is on screen. Ultimately, that’s all the audience is ever going to see. Everyone else working on the film at that stage is party to everything going on around the filmed scene: how cold it was when that scene was shot; who was mad at whom; who is in love with whom; how quickly something was done; what was standing just to the left of the frame. An editor particularly has to be careful that those things don’t exert a hidden influence on the way the film is constructed, can (and should in my view) remain ignorant of all that stuff – in order to find value where others might not see value, and on the other hand, to diminish the value of certain things that other people see as too important. It’s one o the crucial functions of the editor. To take, as far as it is possible, the view of the audience, who is seeing the film without any knowledge of all the things that went into its construction.

On Editing Actors, by Walter Murch in The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje

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Pearls from artists* # 480

Barbara’s Studio

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Walter Murch: As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved when you were between nine and eleven years old.

Michael Ondaatje: Yes – something that had and still has the feeing of a hobby, a curiosity.

M: At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir, in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what excited me when I was eleven.

But I went through a whole late-adolescent phase when I thought: Splicing sounds together can’t be a real occupation, maybe I should be a geologist or teach art history.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

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