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Walter Murch


Coup 53 (2020)
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Particle Fever (2014)
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Thumbnails 11/19/15

The greatest actor alive: Max Von Sydow; Conversations with ISIS fighters; There are Christian terrorists; Greg Berlanti's DC Comics TV shows; Why Othello is black.


Thumbnails 5/18/15

Sam Elliott on typecasting; Why Paul Dano almost quit acting; R.I.P. Gill Dennis; Writing crime fiction changes your POV forever; Why people in old movies talk funny.


Hemingway & Gellhorn: Corny and canny

"Hemingway & Gellhorn (160 minutes) debuts on HBO May 28th, and will be available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand May 29th.

"If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it." -- Ernest Hemingway

by Odie Henderson Philip Kaufman's epic HBO movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" is old-fashioned, corny as hell and not above using cliché. None of these characteristics is necessarily a bad thing, especially if the filmmakers know they are employing them. This film evokes the rainy Sunday afternoon old-movie fare I grew up watching on TV, movies with a tough, macho hero, a smart, brassy dame and the undeniable chemistry between them. Kaufman updates the formula to modern times with belts of profanity and jolts of sex, but "Hemingway and Gellhorn" maintains the feeling of an era long since passed, wherein its leads could have been played by Gable and Harlow or Bogie and Betty Bacall.

The titular characters are Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn is widely considered one of the greatest war correspondents in journalism history, covering wars well into her 80's. Yet, she was constantly overshadowed by her more famous ex-husband. Theirs was a torrid affair, started while Hemingway was married to his Catholic second wife and continuing through their coverage of several wars. "We were good at wars," Gellhorn said, "and when there was no war, we made our own." The screenplay, by Barbara Turner ("Georgia") and Jerry Stahl ("Permanent Midnight") is filled with prose like this, and I enjoyed devouring every purple morsel of it. "Hemingway and Gellhorn" even opens with the now-elderly Gellhorn telling us what a lousy lay she was.


How we really watch a movie

Whenever research confirms something we feel we already knew intuitively, or from our own experience, there are always people who'll scoff and say, "Well, I could have told you that!" And maybe they could have, but that's not the point. Science is a discipline involving systematic observation and empirical evidence, not unverified hunches. Movies, of course, are optical illusions -- photographic, electronic and/or mechanical phenomena that exploit the peculiarities of our eyes and brains... and elicit all manner of feelings. They are science and they are sometimes art, and the methods of studying one or the other can be complementary.

Take one of my favorite David Bordwell posts ("Hands (and faces) across the table"), which has recently been revived (resurrected! It's alive!) through the eyes of science, thanks to DB's guest-blogger, Tim Smith ("Watching you watch 'There Will Be Blood'"), of Continuity Boy, the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London, and The DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements) Project.

In 2008, DB wrote about the map scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," in which the camera remained fixed during a long take while the looks and gestures of the actors "directed" the viewer's gaze. He wrote:

Roger Ebert

After 3D, here is the future of film

When I first saw it in 1999, Maxivision48 produced a picture four times as good as conventional film. It still does. With 3D fading and the possibilities offered by a new Red camera, its time may be here at last. 

Dean Goodhill, the inventor of MV48, laid low while seeking studio backing. Now, he tells me, the time has come to go public. After reading the recent letter from Walter Murch I ran on my blog, he wrote me one of his own. -- RE


Replies to Walter Murch on the end of 3D as we know it

This is the end... Oh. No. It isn't...

Walter Murch rekindled a discussion about 3D, a hot-and-cold topic since "Avatar," with a letter to Roger Ebert, published on Roger's blog under the headline "Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed." Ebert introduced Murch's correspondence with this, accompanied by a recitation of Murch's credits:

I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

This, of course, generated more discussion -- much of it with an ad hominem slant, signaled by the headlines in Slate ("Two Thumbs, Two Dimensions: Roger Ebert is done talking about 3-D movies. Thank goodness.") and Boxoffice Magazine ("This Week in Cranky: Walter Murch Declares War on 3D"). At the same time, Kristin Thompson published two sequels (produced concurrently, in the modern Hollywood style!) to her August 2009 piece, "Has 3-D already failed?," assessing the argument for the commercial viability of the format, pro ("Part 1: RealDlighted") and con ("Part 2: RealDsgusted").

What Murch contributes to the debate is not substantially different from what I, Kirstin Thompson and many others have been writing about since the release of "Avatar" (see my posts, "Avatar 3D headaches: Look at this! Don't look at this!" and "Avatar, the French New Wave and the morality of deep-focus (in 3D)"). The one thing he does bring to the table is that he's Walter Murch, famous sound designer and editor, who edited the Francis Ford Coppola/Michael Jackson Disneyland 3D movie attraction "Captain Eo" back in the 1980s. (That use of the technology as a theme park-style attraction is, in my view, a stage the technology still has not moved beyond. Even those who don't personally like the hallmarks of the current 3D processes -- the glasses, the flat-planed illusion of "depth," the dim picture -- admit it works just fine for animation and cartoony or CGI-enhanced live-action, where the 3D isn't meant to be "realistic.")

Roger Ebert

Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed.

I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

This letter is from Walter Murch, seen at left, the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema. As a editor, he must be intimately expert with how an image interacts with the audience's eyes. He won an Academy Award in 1979 for his work on "Apocalypse Now," whose sound was a crucial aspect of its effect.

Far Flungers

Mogul seeks employment. Will work from home.

Those dudes over there in Ho'wood have no idea what makes a movie that the people will fall in love with, only how to front-load some lackluster ideas with massive budgets, multimillion-dollar print and advertising blitzes, and lame distractions like 3-D in lieu of good stories or capable storytelling.Just as all it would take to get truly progressive social policies on the table are public officials who aren't spineless or sociopathic, all the movies need is a creative executive who makes the sane calls, pushes for real ideas instead of bait-and-switch schemes gleaned from the advertising industry.

Pre-1966 Ho'wood (aka Hollywood) was full of such moguls. For all the racism, sexism, jingoism, and general dizziness that marks Hollywood history, it must be said that the businessmen who ran the show early on were at least in touch with audiences and filmmakers, not just baiting them with barrels of cash and empty promises of "awesomeness." (We live in the Awesome Age, where every scrap of popular entertainment is calculated to knock you down on your ass at every instance. The general effect, though, is similar to watching a hyper kid's melodramatic "death" during a round of cops-and-robbers. "There is nothing so boring in life, let alone in cinema, as the boredom of being excited all the time"--Anthony Lane.)

May contain spoilers

Festivals & Awards

A personal vision with international scope

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- Michael Tolkin, the writer-director of 1994's "The New Age," which played at Ebertfest on Thursday, surveyed the packed house from the stage of Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and said, "This now doubles the number of people who saw this film on its first release."

Festivals & Awards

Ebertfest: Synecdoche, Champaign-Urbana

Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of "Synecdoche, New York" (2008), my choice for the best film of the decade, will appear after the screening of his masterpiece at Ebertfest 2010. The 12th annual festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark 1,600-seat Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, and for the first time ever, all festival Q&A sessions and panel discussions will be streamed live on the Internet.

Ebert Club

#3: March 24, 2010

I AM SO PROUD that eight of the Far-Flung Correspondents will be attending Ebertfest 2010, and so sincerely moved that they're providing their own tickets! A shout-out to Ali Arikan, Seoungyong Cho, Weal Khairy, Michael Mirasol, Omar Moore, Omer Mozzafar, Gerardo Valero, and Grace Wang. Only Robert Tan, who has been under the weather, will be missing. They're all bloggers, and will be on a panel Friday morning about the Global Web of Filmlovers.

Festivals & Awards

New cut slows flow of `Apocalypse'

CANNES, France -- They were giants who walked the earth in those days. To see "Apocalypse Now" once again is to measure how ambition has faltered in these latter days of Hollywood. This is a big, confident, exuberant, passionate movie, a reminder that movies need not merely confirm our petty tastes and pander to our most immediate desires, but can make our imaginations sing.