SIGHT & SOUND: The Cinema of Walter Murch, A Master On His Craft

Three-time Academy Award winner Walter Murch is single-handedly one of the most incredible editors in the history of film. Not necessarily an influential artist in the name of inventing or innovating the craft so much as perfecting it. From the ingenious sound design of The Conversation to the legendary montage of Apocalypse Now to the reconstructive work done on classics like Touch of Evil, Murch has been integral to the success of many lauded productions in the medium. And what better way to learn about his craft than to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Thanks to the diligent work of Pennsylvanian filmmaker Jon Lefkovitz, we can.

SIGHT & SOUND: The Cinema of Walter Murch is a 77-minute masterclass in the art of editing film from one of the greatest living editors. Culled from over 50 hours of interviews and lectures from the man himself, with accompanying footage from both his own productions and those that supplement the concepts he discusses, Lefkovitz illustrates a creative force unlike any other; a man who specializes in two arenas of production and whose mastery of those arenas contributed to some truly iconic moments in film. What makes this particularly compelling is the way it balances the format of the video essay with that of a strict documentary. The video essay, a format often used to allow for moments of cinematic lyricism, brings out the more philosophical side of Murch, with the opening moments of Murch discussing the concept of existing within the womb prior to birth, and the sounds one hears in that particular moment, is a hell of an opening. However, unlike certain video essays, it doesn’t eschew genuine documentative content in the name of poetics. The bulk of Murch’s narration is about the art of cinema in very concrete terms. The way editing contributes to the crafting of the film, the importance of music as well as pure sound and silence, and specific examples from specific productions. It is the best of both worlds in that regard.

I’m particularly pleased that Lefkovitz avoids adding additional narration from another voice. This was something I noted when watching the excellent 2011 miniature effects documentary Sense of Scale from German filmmaker Berton Pierce as well. Documentaries like these are at their best when we are simply absorbing the words of the subjects at hand. In Pierce’s case, it was showcasing a massive, filmic round table of industry veterans who tell their stories and provide us with a unique insight into the art of model-making for the silver screen. In Lefkovitz’s case, we are allowed near-complete access into the creative process of a major filmmaker through the assembly of a bevy of materials, adding up to a coherent, truly insightful whole. It is free to view on Vimeo, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. SIGHT & SOUND is a fascinating look at Murch’s work, one that reflects upon the artist’s history in the medium as well as himself. And given that film has Murch’s own seal of approval, it should be regarded as a must-see for cinephiles, aspiring filmmakers, and historians of the medium.

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