Codex: Eye-Opening

This is a new category of entry - recommendations of books about film that are actually worth reading. They are few, in my opinion, for reasons I hope to set forth as we go along. The heading is "codex" because that is the word used for the bound book when it was a new medium.

Whenever I plow through another essay or book about film "theory," the main conclusion I reach is that the people who write it never made anything with their own two hands. Theorists seem to think that a film either springs directly from the forehead of an individual genius, or it gathers spontaneously as a sort of excrescence on the surface of an entire society.

That's not how films are made. They are made by groups of people working collaboratively, which is the single best explanation both of why most are so bad AND of why the good ones are so astonishing. It follows that the best writing about film is by talented people who understand this.

Such a writer is Walter Murch, the veteran editor and sound designer whose credits include "Apocalypse Now" (original and recut), "The Godfather Part II," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "The English Patient," and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Read Murch's "In the Blink of an Eye," if you want to be reminded of how much old-fashioned craftsmanship, not to mention artistry, goes into the making of a good film.

Effortlessly Murch goes from explaining fine detail to expressing large understanding. Here are two examples, though it's tempting to quote the whole book:

"By cutting away from a certain character BEFORE he finishes speaking, I might encourage the audience to think only about the face value of what he said. On the other hand, if I linger on the character AFTER he finishes speaking, I allow the audience to see, from the expression in his eyes, that he is probably not telling the truth..."

"The underlying principle: Always try to do the most with the least ... Why? Because you want to do only what it necessary to engage the imagination of the audience - suggestion is always more effective than exposition. Past a certain point, the more effort you put into a wealth of detail, the more you encourage the audience to become spectators rather than participants."

February 5, 2005 9:30 AM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by published on February 5, 2005 9:30 AM.

You'll Never Valet Park in This Town Again was the previous entry in this blog.

Observing the Formulas is the next entry in this blog.

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