By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
I like to think cinema is stumbling around in the "pre-notation" phase of its history. We're still doing it all by the seat of our pants. Not that we haven't made wonderful things. But if you compare music in the 12th century with music in the 18th century, you can clearly sense a difference of several orders of magnitude in technical and emotional development, and this was all made possible by the ability to write music on paper. Whether we will ever be able to write anything like cinematic notation, I don't know. But it's interesting to think about.
One of those great ear-opening experiences happened to me when I was 19 and working at a radio station, cataloging its classical-record collection. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to teach myself music history, so I started with the oldest music first, listening to what I was cataloging as I went. It was a summerlong project, and after three weeks I'd only reached the 15th century. I should mention that this was a lonely, one-person occupation -- I didn't have much contact with anyone else at the station. But one day I had to go upstairs to the control booth for some reason, and the moment I opened the door, my ears were assaulted with a cacophony of rhythmic and dissonant weirdness. This was a staid classical station, and I thought: We don't play this kind of music! What is this?
Holding my ears, I asked the engineer, and he picked up the record jacket and showed me: J. S. Bach's Saint Matthew Passion. Suddenly this "chaotic" music began to transform itself, and in only a few seconds, my ears navigated the 300-year distance between the 15th century, where I had been, and the 18th century, where I was now. I learned, viscerally, that what we think of as normal is largely a question of what we are most often exposed to . . .
Ingmar Bergman talks somewhere about how making a film, with a large group of people, is akin to a medieval community building a cathedral.
We were talking earlier about having multiple editors on a film like Apocalypse Now. But it seems to happen throughout the filmmaking process. How do you get 150 temperamental artistic types to work together on the same project, and make something that not only comes in on schedule, on budget, but that has an artistic coherence? It's simply beyond the ability of a single person, a director or a producer, to cause that to happen by any series of direct commands. It's so complicated that it just can't be done. The question is: How does it happen?
If you've ever remodeled a house, you'll know how difficult it is even to get four or five carpenters to agree on anything: billions of people have been building houses, for thousands of years -- "houseness" should almost be encoded in our DNA. And yet when you remodel, it's very common to go double over budget and schedule.
By comparison, we've only been making films for a hundred years, and a film crew is made up of sometimes hundreds of people, yet somehow, miraculously, at the end of "only" a year, there is, one hopes, a wonderful, mysterious, powerful, coherent, two-hour-long vision that has no precedent -- and the more original the vision, the more the process is amazing. And yet studios are furious with us if we go 10 percent over budget and schedule!
We tend to accept this miracle because we're right in the middle of it -- it seems somehow normal -- but I think in the future, hundreds of years from now, people will look back on our period a bit the way we look back at Gothic cathedrals. How did they build those cathedrals, when they didn't have computers, when they didn't have the engineering knowledge and tools that we have? How did they know exactly how to build those gigantic creations, each more marvelous than the last? It would be a challenge for us today, despite all our power and knowledge, to duplicate Chartres cathedral. And yet it was done with human muscle and, literally, horsepower. How did they dare to dream and then accomplish such a thing? These fantastic buildings seemingly came out of nowhere. Suddenly Gothic architecture was happening all over Europe at the same time. It's phenomenal what went on, and it's mysterious to us today how it was actually accomplished. It's the same with the Egyptian pyramids. I think future generations with powers we can't even imagine will look back on filmmaking in the 20th century and say, How did they do all that, back then, with their ridiculously limited resources?
THE SECOND CONVERSATION
Did you have control during the [sound] mix of The Godfather?
To a certain extent, I did. Francis was directing Private Lives for American Conservatory Theater, up here in San Francisco, so I was his "man in Havana" -- I was the person representing the intentions of the director, which, because Francis trusted me, were frequently my own intentions.
Were there any scenes that created problems for the studio?
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