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Conversation

An essay on the creative editing procedure of Walter Murch
(translation of part 1)

Conversation 1Conversation 1

Part 1
Synopsis:

Harry Caulis a paranoid eavesdropping expert who runs his own company in San Francisco and he is highly respected by the colleagues within his profession. Saul is obsessed with his own privacy ; his apartment is behind its triple-locked door, he uses a payphone to make calls and claims that he doesn't have a home telephone and his office is enclosed in a corner of a much larger warehouse. He is utterly professional at work, but it is extremely difficult for him to make personal contacts. Dense crowd makes him uncomfortable and he is repulsive and taciturn in intimate social situations; he is also taciturn and mysterious with his colleagues. Although his clothing style is neutral, he tends to wear a translucent gray plastic raincoat almost everywhere he goes, even when it is not raining. Although he insists that he is not responsible for the actual content of the conversations he records or for the use his clients will make of it, he feels tortured by guilt over the recent wiretap job which has resulted in the murder of three people. This feeling of guilt is even more pronounced because of his Catholic upbringing. His only hobby is playing a saxophone to his favorite jazz tunes in the privacy of his home.

a/Opening sequence, Union Square, San Francisco Parallel editing (cross- cutting)

The concept applied in this sequence is the first one in the series of similar ones during the flow of the dramatic plot. Though it is complex, it has two basic types of materials - documentary, filmed with tele-lens, which is equivalent to the audio content, and shots within the interior of the van with the actors. The third parallel flow is exterior shots of the sound recorders on the surrounding buildings, as well as several subjective views. The sound matrix on the border of intelligibility, (due to the nature of the work of the main protagonist), progressively reveals cause-effect relationships that link Harry Caul and the content of the conversation on the street between two young people. Some segments of this conversation multiply and play a key role in defining the plot and Caul's character traits, cutting deep into the subconscious sphere. Within this parallel editing there are several audio-visual levels at which the position of our hero is perceived depending on the choice of our perspective, plan and angles of view, in one moment in the exterior plane with the surroundings, and in another interiorized bordering on a private and not just a professional interest in the job. Several complementary shots of Caul's associates define his position as master of the situation. At the beginning, he does not "invest" emotionally in its denouement, doing his job very professionally. However, this sequence seems to be the indication of Caul's ambivalence.

b/Passages / Condensed sequence
1.

In a number of passages in which Harry performs his everyday activities, such as crossing the street, riding the subway, arriving to the mistress – the actors' spiritual state is revealed trough the counterpoint in which picture and sound are placed.

Almost "Satie-like" musical passages evoke a state of loneliness, which is the product of an inversion which moves Harry from the domain of reality and brings into the sphere of introspective judgement and opens the space for the dilemma that prompts him to the conflict with the employer. Therefore, he increasingly doubts the postulate of the strict professionalism and begins to "emotionally invest " in business.

In terms of editing, all described passages are dense sequences; in the dramaturgical terms they are an indication of the transformation of personality doing the job that is in collision with his true character and by entropy principle takes over its energy potential. Their tempo, in this sense , prepares the audience for the changes that will appear in the narration's character. They are also in the causal connection with the loss of self-control in a series of retrospective and oneiric sequences – Harry Caul is, in fact, yet another one of the film protagonists, who (as in the movie The Killers by Don Siegel (1964.), John Flynn's The Outfit (1973.) or in the complete oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino.) abandons highly pronounced professional code, while aiming the action toward the "inside" exposing the employer. This event in a dramatic turn shows another change that completely devastates a personality with a strong value system.

2.

Another type of passages that is encountered within the narrative is openly explicit and speaks of dualism of Harry's personality and the nature of a latent paranoid. One example is the motif of returning home, visualized trough his entry into the empty spaces where absolute silence prevails. The minimalism of his living space suggests the kind of professionalism that consumes all his daily time and a paranoid fear of a possible inversion in a professional sense – from the omnipotent "ear number one" on the West coast of the USA, he slowly turns into a potential victim.

3.

A special playback in which Harry plays the saxophone to the jazz matrix in the moments of meditation introduces a new motive for analysis. According to the psychoanalytic vocabulary, it is the situation of an "ear membrane entanglement", where he isolates himself yet exposed to the multi-layered resonance of everyday work. In these passages,he is in the soundless state within which is completely free. This is his natural state and he is coming back to it after the final sequence of destruction of his own environment and nervous breakdown.

In terms of editing, all described passages are dense sequences; in the dramaturgical terms they are an indication of the transformation of personality doing the job that is in collision with his true character and by entropy principle takes over its energy potential. Their tempo, in this sense , prepares the audience for the changes that will appear in the narration's character. They are also in the causal connection with the loss of self-control in a series of retrospective and oneiric sequences – Harry Caul is, in fact, yet another one of the film protagonists, who (as in the movie The Killers by Don Siegel (1964.), John Flynn's The Outfit (1973.) or in the complete oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino.) abandons highly pronounced professional code, while aiming the action toward the "inside" exposing the employer. This event in a dramatic turn shows another change that completely devastates a personality with a strong value system.

 

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