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Posts Tagged ‘Apocalypse Now’

A Downright Incantation

December 3, 2013 | by

BelgianCongoHut

Old Belgian river station on the Congo River, 1889.

Everyone knows that Heart of Darkness was adapted as Apocalypse Now, but have you ever listened to the 1938 radio version Orson Welles did with the Mercury Theatre? The sound quality is poor, but it’s compelling nonetheless.

 

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Josh Melnick and Walter Murch in Conversation

February 7, 2012 | by

In 2009, artist Josh Melnick used a scientific research camera to film portraits of New York City subway riders in slow motion—very slow motion, about a hundred times slower than normal film speed. The result was a moment viewed as if through a high-powered microscope, revealing a degree of temporal detail inaccessible to the naked eye.

Around that time, Melnick sat down in a hotel lobby in Manhattan for a conversation with Academy Award–winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (whose films include The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, THX 1338, and The English Patient, to name a few). Murch is an amateur astronomer, a prolific translator, author of the seminal book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye, and subject of The Conversations by Michael Ondaatje.

Their conversation, excerpted here, appears in full in Melnick’s book, The 8 Train, forthcoming this spring.

You take the subway from the airport?

Yes. It’s great because it’s an elevated train. You have that early-twentieth-century experience of looking into people’s third-floor windows. You can see people’s attempts or nonattempts to screen off their lives from the view of disinterested observers. I was watching this, and then I began watching the other people on the train watching this, and then, because of my interest in blinking, I started wondering what their blink rates were.

You’ve written about blinking.

In high school, I read that every fifteen seconds or so, some kind of windshield wiper needs to clean they eye off, which is the blink. Yet, if that were true—if that was the only thing going on—you’d come into a certain environment like this, and some thermostat would kick in and say, Okay, blink once every 7.2 seconds. But that isn’t what happens. People blink at irregular times.

Like most people, I was oblivious to blinking until The Conversation, which was the first feature that I edited. I had the repeated, uncanny experience of watching Gene Hackman’s close-ups and deciding where to cut—He put the tape down, and now he’s thinking about what he’s going to do with the tape and … cut. Very frequently, more frequently than I would have thought, the point that I decided to cut was the point that Hackman blinked. I thought, That’s peculiar. Then, after one session that lasted all night, I went out to get some breakfast. It was a Sunday morning, and I passed a Christian Science reading room in San Francisco, down in the SoMA district. They had a copy of the Christian Science Monitor. John Huston had just finished Fat City, and there was an interview with him about the film. The topic of editing came up, and he said to the interviewer, “Look at me. Now look at that lamp. Now look at me. Did you see what you did?” “No.” “Well, you blinked. When you changed subject, you blinked. That’s what the cut is.” And I suddenly thought, Aha! He was doing it along with a change of visual frame, but I realized we also blink with a change in our interior view. Read More »

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The Escape Artist

January 11, 2012 | by

Graham Greene stole the title of my memoirs. Rueful and proud, ringing of a boastful confession, imaginary maps, and the magician’s exegesis, his Ways of Escape would have been a perfect header for my career of flight—from reality, relationships, and, finally, the country. It is a series of escapes in which Mister Greene, who made so seductive the life of an exiled libertine, is not entirely innocent.

But he needn’t take all the blame. At least part of the credit for my fleet-footedness is due to a childhood spent shunting between single parents and rival school districts (or is it the other way around?). I was always arriving, never staying too long, and, with another departure constantly looming, my relationship to home became abstracted to fungible goods, dispassionate.

As an only child, I spent a lot of time by myself. But I never ran with imaginary friends, opting instead to invent imaginary versions of myself. I dreamed constantly of flying (by mastering the basketball double pump), climbed ficus trees, and read Dragonlance books. Their rogues and wizards enchanted me, wandering far from their homes, always in search of a tree city called Solace.

In the fifth grade, I asked the girl I was crazy about to go steady with me, only to call back five minutes later to explain that I’d had too many Jolly Ranchers, and, unfortunately, it was over between us. I’ve left every relationship since—be it of five months or five years—in a similar fashion. It really isn’t them. It’s me, and I have to leave all that I know to get rid of him, to start over. Like a writer in the movies, with a pile of crumpled paper in the bin beside him, I am forever beginning anew. This next draft is going to be the keeper—the real me.

Meanwhile, I’ve inherited my father’s method for home improvement: moving. At the end of my chapters I pull up stakes like a fugitive and purge everything, from beds to furniture to collectibles and clothing. A stack of my first-edition Gavin Lambert books now lives in a baby nursery in Culver City, an espresso maker is in Echo Park, and a few dozen ties are reentering circulation from an Out of the Closet on Fairfax.

Jobs are no different. At least four times I’ve gone home from a day’s work without a word, never to return. I’ve left schools, left my position as starting quarterback for a college football team, and left this piece a half dozen times. My distinguishing feature is a pair of taillights. Read More »

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