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Walter Murch on Malaparte and the Multiverse

March 24, 2014
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murch_head.240Walter Murch is a living legend. Lawrence Weschler (who speaks at UMBC tomorrow) calls him “the smartest man in America.” Murch is responsible for the sound design or film editing on iconic films ranging from this year’s Particle Fever back to The English Patient, Star Wars, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now, where he discovered his famous “Law of Two-and-a-Half,” which found  “a balance point where there were enough interesting sounds to add meaning and help tell the story, but not so many that they overwhelmed each other.” (Read more about it here).

Tonight, Murch will give a talk “From Malaparte to the Multiverse: The Physics of Poetry and the Poetry of Physics,”  at 7:30 p.m. in Hodson Hall Auditorium (110) of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. Malaparte, as in Curzio Malaparte, is an Italian writer most famous for his autobiographical novel Kaput, about his experiences in Mussolini’s army (he was also imprisoned by the dictator for writing Technique of a Coup D’Etat). In Omnivore magazine, Murch wrote that he came across Malaparte due to a “chance encounter . . . in a French book about cosmology, where one of Malaparte’s stories was retold to illustrate a point about conditions shortly after the creation of the universe.” Which is, of course, where Particle Fever, about the search for the Higgs Boson particle, comes in.

Murch’s translations of Malaparte are peculiar in that they are in verse, rather than prose. When I spoke to him in 2012, he said  that the governing question was: “Where am I going to break the line? It’s not grammar, but rhythm.” This approach was one of the ways to deal with the differences between film and text. “Film is temporal, it moves on at it’s own pace,” he said. “The act of reading, by definition is recursive, the eye is always flipping back and forth across the page. It is a stitching together that is not tied to time.”

If you need any more convincing, the clip below features Murch talking about the rhythms and pacing of editing.