Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for December 17th, 2006

Audience, ambiguity, and the five stages of editing

Posted by metaphorical on 17 December 2006

First, a bit of background: This semester, my writing workshop is with Susan Bell, who’s an editor, not a writer, which is, I think, a unique circumstance in my creative writing program. The class is devoted to rewriting, that is, editing oneself. Bell recommended, but didn’t require us to read, the book “The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film.”

Walter Murch is a music and film editor. The movies discussed in the book include Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Conversation, and the Godfather movies. Murch also did all the editing for the re-cut of Apocalypse Now. He also edited the re-cut of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (which I’d like to see because the original release, which I’ve seen and didn’t think much of, was a result of a studio edit done without Welles’s involvement). Murch also worked on THX 1138, American Graffitti, Ghost, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain.

The book is set up as as aggregated interview of Murch by Michael Ondaatje, who wrote the novel “The English Patient.” The similarities and differences between film and written work in general really interest me these days, so I’ve been reading the book pretty carefully and slowly. Murch is interesting on a thousand different topics; one of them is the involvement of the viewer (or reader) with the work.

Murch says that editing a movie is a multi-staged, multi-layered process.

Every stage leaves a residue of unsolved problems for the next stage—partly because the particular dilemma you’re facing cannot be solved in terms of the medium you’re working in right then. For instance, at the script stage there may be issues that have to be left undecided, so the actors can have a fruitful ambiguity to work with. It would be deadly if you did solve all the problems in the script—because then everything subsequent would be a mechanical working out of an already established form.

The acting, the shooting, the editing, and the sound may all blend into one another, but in fact there are five stages in a film’s life: the script stage; the pre-production stage, where you cast and choose locations; the shooting; the editing; and then the sound and music stage. Each is fateful in its own way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in journalism, screenwriting, the arts, writing | Leave a Comment »

The origin of life?

Posted by metaphorical on 17 December 2006

Harry at the Infinite Bliss factory found this the other day. From the current Journal of the American Chemical Society:

New insights into the origin of life on Earth

In an advance toward understanding the origin of life on Earth, scientists have shown that parts of the Krebs cycle can run in reverse, producing biomolecules that could jump-start life with only sunlight and a mineral present in the primordial oceans.

The Krebs cycle is a series of chemical reactions of central importance in cells — part of a metabolic pathway that changes carbohydrates, fats and proteins into carbon dioxide and water to generate energy.

This is potentially a very big deal. Scientists and philosophers have worried for quite some time about the paradox that you need enzymes to make enzymes.

Jacques Monod, who won the the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965, wrote a book in 1971, Chance and Necessity, that convincingly laid out the case against all design arguments and in favor of chance, or randomness, as the basis of evolution. In it, he carefully and inconclusively considers the enzyme question as the last remaining puzzle about the origin of life.

Posted in philosophy, technology | Leave a Comment »