I took a taxi to an appointment lately and the driver was very talkative. I learned all about his life, his early baseball prospects, his divorce, his daughter, his newborn grandson. He hoped to teach the child to play baseball, which got us on the subject of baseball. He was a Yankee fan, and especially loved Alex Rodriguez. Read More
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
This is a story about the life and death of a Hollywood icon—much of it myth, uncorroborated hearsay, and patchwork nostalgia, but it’s all how I remember it.
In its day, which is to say from around 1996 to 2003, Les Deux Cafés was the brightest starlet of the Hollywood nightlife scene, and like many of her sexy habitués, she was famously unpredictable, hauntingly seductive, and seemingly hell-bent on her own destruction.
Hidden in a nondescript parking lot, behind an unmarked steel door, the “the two cafés” girded a pair of Provençal-style gardens dotted with mosaic-top tables and dripping with night-blooming jasmine and eucalyptus. Around the old magnolia tree dropping its leaves on the slate slab floor, past the mobile garden bar (and tables 20-23), you approached the main house through the patio—an elevated porch, covered by a canopy of grapevines and three species of Japanese wisteria, and heated year-round by an outdoor fireplace. These were the most coveted tables (numbers 50-62), each of them handmade glass-tile arabesques—where Al Pacino shot double decaf espressos and Six Feet Under shot episodes, where Tim Roth and his family ate most Sunday nights, where Heath Ledger, Djimon Hounsou, Nicole Kidman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch ate Hama Hama oysters and drank Veuve Clicquot on quiet nights, and Lenny Kravitz and Bill Murray chopped it up and table-hopped on the busy ones.
Inside the house, a two-story white clapboard Craftsman bungalow, you came to the walnut-paneled banquettes (tables 70-101), where romantic couples would be getting engaged. The House, which was placed on a trailer and moved several blocks to this site, had reportedly belonged to James Cagney in the thirties. Designer Paul Fortune—who, after his masterful work at Les Deux Cafés, would famously revamp the restaurant at the Sunset Tower—hung his own portrait of the actor over the indoor fireplace.
Behind the house was the cavernous kitchen, and down a long, poured-cement corridor, past the bathrooms where TV stars did cocaine, was the Trapeze Bar—a jazzy, high-ceilinged modernist boîte where, long after the California smoking ban, performers still puffed through their sets, and, right after the Grammys, Puffy would dance on tables and buy out the bar’s collection of Krug Clos du Mesnil.
But, though the café was Siren-song beautiful, the real draw—what we lurch for with the electromagnetic descriptor vibe—was felt more than seen. The service was abysmal (infamously, and intentionally so), the food was okay, but the scene … the scene was the thing. It was lost on no one that the garden tables were arranged as an amphitheater, the better to watch everyone else. Owner and guiding spirit Michèle Lamy casted the staff more than hired them, and, consciously or not, we all performed in her play. Read More