About the Author

Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje (born 12 September 1943) is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet of Colombo Chetty and Burgher origin. He is perhaps best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film.

He moved to England in 1954, and in 1962 moved to Canada where he has lived ever since. He was educated at the University of Toronto and Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and began teaching at York University in Toronto in 1971. He published a volume of memoir, entitled Running in the Family, in 1983. His collections of poetry include The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems (1981), which won the Canadian Governor General's Award in 1971; The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems (1989); and Handwriting: Poems (1998). His first novel, Coming Through Slaughter (1976), is a fictional portrait of jazz musician Buddy Bolden. The English Patient (1992), set in Italy at the end of the Second World War, was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1996. Anil's Ghost (2000), set in Sri Lanka, tells The Story of a young female anthropologist investigating war crimes for an international human rights group.

Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto with his wife, Linda Spalding, with whom he edits the literary journal Brick. His new novel is Divisadero (2007).

Books by this Author
Divisadero

Divisadero

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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Excerpt

By our grandfather’s cabin, on the high ridge, opposite a slope of buckeye trees, Claire sits on her horse, wrapped in a thick blanket. She has camped all night and lit a fire in the hearth of that small structure our ancestor built more than a generation ago, and which he lived in like a hermit or some creature, when he first came to this country. He was a self-sufficient bachelor who eventually owned all the land he looked down onto. He married lackadaisically when he was forty, had one son, and left him this farm along the Petaluma road.

Claire moves slowly on the ridge above the two valleys full of morning mist. The coast is to her left. On her right is the journey to Sacramento and the delta towns such as Rio Vista with its populations left over from the Gold Rush.

She persuades the horse down through the whiteness alongside crowded trees. She has been smelling smoke for the last twenty minutes, and, on the outskirts of Glen Ellen, she sees the town bar on fire–the local arsonist has struck early, when certain it would be empty. She watches from a distance without dismounting. The horse, Territorial, seldom allows a remount; in this he can be fooled only once a day. The two of them, rider and animal, don’t fully trust each other, although the horse is my sister Claire’s closest ally. She will use every trick not in the book to stop his rearing and bucking. She carries plastic bags of water with her and leans forward and smashes them onto his neck so the animal believes it is his own blood and will calm for a minute. When Claire is on a horse she loses her limp and is in charge of the universe, a centaur. Someday she will meet and marry a centaur.

The fire takes an hour to burn down. The Glen Ellen Bar has always been the location of fights, and even now she can see scuffles starting up on the streets, perhaps to honour the landmark. She sidles the animal against the slippery red wood of a madrone bush and eats its berries, then rides down into the town, past the fire. Close by, as she passes, she can hear the last beams collapsing like a roll of thunder, and she steers the horse away from the sound.

On the way home she passes vineyards with their prehistoric-looking heat blowers that keep air moving so the vines don’t freeze. Ten years earlier, in her youth, smudge pots burned all night to keep the air warm.

Most mornings we used to come into the dark kitchen and silently cut thick slices of cheese for ourselves. My father drinks a cup of red wine. Then we walk to the barn. Coop is already there, raking the soiled straw, and soon we are milking the cows, our heads resting against their flanks. A father, his two eleven-year-old daughters, and Coop the hired hand, a few years older than us. No one has talked yet, there’s just been the noise of pails or gates swinging open.

Coop in those days spoke sparingly, in a low-pitched monologue to himself, as if language was uncertain. Essentially he was clarifying what he saw–the light in the barn, where to climb the approaching fence, which chicken to cordon off, capture, and tuck under his arm. Claire and I listened whenever we could. Coop was an open soul in those days. We realized his taciturn manner was not a wish for separateness but a tentativeness about words. He was adept in the physical world where he protected us. But in the world of language he was our student.

At that time, as sisters, we were mostly on our own. Our father had brought us up single-handed and was too busy to be conscious of intricacies. He was satisfied when we worked at our chores and easily belligerent when it became difficult to find us. Since the death of our mother it was Coop who listened to us complain and worry, and he allowed us the stage when he thought we wished for it. Our father gazed right through Coop. He was training him as a farmer and nothing else. What Coop read, however, were books about gold camps and gold mines in the California northeast, about those who had risked everything at a river bend on a left turn and so discovered a fortune. By the second half of the twentieth century he was, of course, a hundred years too late, but he knew there were still outcrops of gold, in rivers, under the bunch grass, or in the pine sierras.

*

Now and then our father embraced us as any father would. This happened only if you were able to catch him in that no-man’s-land between tiredness and sleep, when he seemed wayward to himself. I joined him on the old covered sofa, and I would lie like a slim dog in his arms, imitating his state of weariness–too much sun perhaps, or too hard a day’s work.

Claire would also be there sometimes, if she did not want to be left out, or if there was a storm. But I simply wished to have my face against his checkered shirt and pretend to be asleep. As if inhaling the flesh of an adult was a sin and also a glory, a right in any case. To do such a thing during daylight would have been unthinkable, he’d have pushed us aside. He was not a modern parent, he had been raised with a few male rules, and he no longer had a wife to qualify or compromise his beliefs. So you had to catch him in that twilight state, when he had ceded control on the tartan sofa, his girls enclosed, one in each of his arms. I would watch the flicker under his eyelid, the tremble within that covering skin that signalled his tiredness, as if he were being tugged in mid-river by a rope to some other place. And then I too would sleep, descending into the layer that was closest to him. A father who allows you that should protect you all of your days, I think.

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From Ink Lake

From Ink Lake

Canadian Stories Selected By Michael Ondaatje
edition:Paperback
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Handwriting
Excerpt

In the dry lands

every few miles, moving north,
another roadside Ganesh

Straw figures
on bamboo scaffolds
to advertise a family
of stilt-walkers

Men twenty feet high
walking over fields
crossing the thin road
with their minimal arms
and "lying legs"

A dance of tall men
with the movement of prehistoric birds
in practice before they alight

So men become gods
in the small village
of Ilukwewa

Ganesh in pink,
                         in yellow,
in elephant darkness
His simplest shrine
a drawing of him

lime chalk
on a grey slate

All this glory
preparing us for Anuradhapura

its night faith

A city with the lap
and spell of a river

Families below trees
around the heart of a fire

tributaries
from the small villages
of the dry zone

Circling the dagoba
in a clockwise hum and chant,
bowls of lit coal
above their heads

whispering bare feet

Our flutter and drift

in the tow of this river

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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In the Skin of a Lion
Excerpt

An April night in 1917. Harris and Pomphrey were on the bridge, in the dark wind. Pomphrey had turned west and was suddenly stilled. His hand reached out to touch Harris on the shoulder, a gesture he had never made before.

-- Look!

Walking on the bridge were five nuns.

Past the Dominion Steel castings wind attacked the body directly. The nuns were walking past the first group of workers at the fire. The bus, Harris thought, must have dropped them off near Castle Frank and the nuns had, with some confusion at that hour, walked the wrong way in the darkness.

They had passed the black car under the trees and talking cheerfully stepped past the barrier into a landscape they did not know existed -- onto a tentative carpet over the piers, among the night labourers. They saw the fire and the men. A few tried to wave them back. There was a mule attached to a wagon. The hiss and jump of machines made the ground under them lurch. A smell of creosote. One man was washing his face in a barrel of water.

The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.

Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.

Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

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The Cat's Table
Excerpt

He wasn’t talking . He was looking from the window of the car all the way. Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath. He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn’t. For a while, at the section of the road where the river sometimes flooded, he could hear the spray of water at the wheels. They entered the Fort and the car slipped silently past the post office building and the clock tower. At this hour of the night there was barely any traffic in Colombo. They drove out along Reclamation Road, passed St. Anthony’s Church, and after that he saw the last of the food stalls, each lit with a single bulb. Then they entered a vast open space that was the harbour, with only a string of lights in the distance along the pier. He got out and stood by the warmth of the car.
 
He could hear the stray dogs that lived on the quays barking out of the darkness. Nearly everything around him was invisible, save for what could be seen under the spray of a few sulphur lanterns—watersiders pulling a procession of baggage wagons, some families huddled together. They were all beginning to walk towards the ship.
 
He was eleven years old that night when, green as he could be about the world, he climbed aboard the first and only ship of his life. It felt as if a city had been added to the coast, better lit than any town or village. He went up the gangplank, watching only the path of his feet—nothing ahead of him existed—and continued till he faced the dark harbour and sea. There were outlines of other ships farther out, beginning to turn on lights. He stood alone, smelling everything, then came back through the noise and the crowd to the side that faced land. A yellow glow over the city. Already it felt there was a wall between him and what took place there. Stewards began handing out food and cordials.
 
He ate several sandwiches, and after that he made his way down to his cabin, undressed, and slipped into the narrow bunk. He’d never slept under a blanket before, save once in Nuwara Eliya. He was wide awake. The cabin was below the level of the waves, so there was no porthole. He found a switch beside the bed and when he pressed it his head and pillow were suddenly lit by a cone of light.
 
He did not go back up on deck for a last look, or to wave at his relatives who had brought him to the harbour. He could hear singing and imagined the slow and then eager parting of families taking place in the thrilling night air. I do not know, even now, why he chose this solitude. Had whoever brought him onto the Oronsay already left? In films people tear themselves away from one another weeping, and the ship separates from land while the departed hold on to those disappearing faces until all distinction is lost.
 
I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was. Perhaps a sense of self is not even there in his nervous stillness in the narrow bunk, in this green grasshopper or little cricket, as if he has been smuggled away accidentally, with no knowledge of the act, into the future.
 
He woke up, hearing passengers running along the corridor. So he got back into his clothes and left the cabin. Something was happening. Drunken yells filled the night, shouted down by officials. In the middle of B Deck, sailors were attempting to grab hold of the harbour pilot. Having guided the ship meticulously out of the harbour (there were many routes to be avoided because of submerged wrecks and an earlier breakwater), he had gone on to have too many drinks to celebrate his achievement. Now, apparently, he simply did not wish to leave. Not just yet. Perhaps another hour or two with the ship. But the Oronsay was eager to depart on the stroke of midnight and the pilot’s tug waited at the waterline. The crew had been struggling to force him down the rope ladder, however as there was a danger of his falling to his death, they were now capturing him fishlike in a net, and in this way they lowered him down safely. It seemed to be in no way an embarrassment to the man, but the episode clearly was to the officials of the Orient Line who were on the bridge, furious in their white uniforms. The passengers cheered as the tug broke away. Then there was the sound of the two-stroke and the pilot’s weary singing as the tug disappeared into the night.
 
Departure
What had there been before such a ship in my life? A dugout canoe on a river journey? A launch in Trincomalee harbour? There were always fishing boats on our horizon. But I could never have imagined the grandeur of this castle that was to cross the sea. The longest journeys I had made were car rides to Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains, or the train to Jaffna, which we boarded at seven a.m. and disembarked from in the late afternoon. We made that journey with our egg sandwiches, some thalagulies, a pack of cards, and a small Boy’s Own adventure.
 
But now it had been arranged I would be travelling to England by ship, and that I would be making the journey alone. No mention was made that this might be an unusual experience or that it could be exciting or dangerous, so I did not approach it with any joy or fear. I was not forewarned that the ship would have seven levels, hold more than six hundred people including a captain, nine cooks, engineers, a veterinarian, and that it would contain a small jail and chlorinated pools that would actually sail with us over two oceans. The departure date was marked casually on the calendar by my aunt, who had notified the school that I would be leaving at the end of the term. The fact of my being at sea for twenty-one days was spoken of as having not much significance, so I was surprised my relatives were even bothering to accompany me to the harbour. I had assumed I would be taking a bus by myself and then change onto another at Borella Junction.
 
There had been just one attempt to introduce me to the situation of the journey. A lady named Flavia Prins, whose husband knew my uncle, turned out to be making the same journey and was invited to tea one afternoon to meet with me. She would be travelling in First Class but promised to keep an eye on me. I shook her hand carefully, as it was covered with rings and bangles, and she then turned away to continue the conversation I had interrupted. I spent most of the hour listening to a few uncles and counting how many of the trimmed sandwiches they ate. On my last day, I found an empty school examination booklet, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, a traced map of the world, and put them into my small suitcase. I went outside and said good-bye to the generator, and dug up the pieces of the radio I had once taken apart and, being unable to put them back together, had buried under the lawn. I said good-bye to Narayan, and good-bye to Gunepala.
 
As I got into the car, it was explained to me that after I’d crossed the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, and gone through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, I would arrive one morning on a small pier in England and my mother would meet me there. It was not the magic or the scale of the journey that was of concern to me, but that detail of how my mother could know when exactly I would arrive in that other country.
 
And if she would be there.
 
I heard a note being slipped under my door. It assigned me to Table 76 for all my meals. The other bunk had not been slept in. I dressed and went out. I was not used to stairs and climbed them warily.
 
In the dining room there were nine people at Table 76, and that included two other boys roughly my age.
 
“We seem to be at the cat’s table,” the woman called Miss Lasqueti said. “We’re in the least privileged place.”
 
It was clear we were located far from the Captain’s Table, which was at the opposite end of the dining room. One of the two boys at our table was named Ramadhin, and the other was called Cassius. The first was quiet, the other looked scornful, and we ignored one another, although I recognized Cassius. I had gone to the same school, where, even though he was a year older than I was, I knew much about him. He had been notorious and was even expelled for a term. I was sure it was going to take a long time before we spoke. But what was good about our table was that there seemed to be several interesting adults. We had a botanist, and a tailor who owned a shop up in Kandy. Most exciting of all, we had a pianist who cheerfully claimed to have “hit the skids.”
 
This was Mr. Mazappa. In the evening he played with the ship’s orchestra, and during the afternoons he gave piano lessons. As a result, he had a discount on his passage. After that first meal he entertained Ramadhin and Cassius and me with tales of his life. It was by being in Mr. Mazappa’s company, as he regaled us with confusing and often obscene lyrics from songs he knew, that we three came to accept one another. For we were shy and awkward. Not one of us had made even a gesture of greeting to the other two until Mazappa took us under his wing and advised us to keep our eyes and ears open, that this voyage would be a great education. So by the end of our first day, we discovered we could become curious together.
 
Another person of interest at the Cat’s Table was Mr. Nevil, a retired ship dismantler, who was returning to England after a patch of time in the East. We sought out this large and gentle man often, for he had detailed knowledge about the structure of ships. He had dismantled many famous vessels. Unlike Mr. Mazappa, Mr. Nevil was modest and would speak of these episodes in his past only if you knew how to nudge an incident out of him. If he had not been so modest in the way he responded to our barrage of questions, we would not have believed him, or been so enthralled.
 
He also had a complete run of the ship, for he was doing safety research for the Orient Line. He introduced us to his cohorts in the engine and furnace rooms, and we watched the activities that took place down there. Compared to First Class, the engine room—at Hades level—churned with unbearable noise and heat. A two-hour walk around the Oronsay with Mr. Nevil clarified all the dangerous and not-so- dangerous possibilities. He told us the lifeboats swaying in mid-air only seemed dangerous, and so, Cassius and Ramadhin and I often climbed into them to have a vantage point for spying on passengers. It had been Miss Lasqueti’s remark about our being “in the least privileged place,” with no social importance, that persuaded us into an accurate belief that we were invisible to officials such as the Purser and the Head Steward, and the Captain.

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The Cinnamon Peeler
Excerpt

TRANSLATIONS OF MY POSTCARDS
the peacock means order
the fighting kangaroos mean madness
the oasis means I have struck water

positioning of the stamp — the despot’s head
horizontal, or ‘mounted policemen’,
mean political danger

the false date means I
am not where I should be

when I speak of the weather
I mean business

a blank postcard says
I am in the wilderness

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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
Excerpt

I send you a picture of Billy made with the Perry shutter as quick as it can be worked–Pyro and soda developer. I am making daily experiments now and find I am able to take passing horses at a lively trot square across the line of fire–bits of snow in the air–spokes well defined–some blur on top of wheel but sharp in the main–men walking are no trick–I will send you proofs sometime. I shall show you what can be done from the saddle without ground glass or tripod–please notice when you get the specimens that they were made with the lens wide open and many of the best exposed when my horse was in motion

*

These are the killed.

(By me)–
Morton, Baker, early friends of mine.
Joe Bernstein. 3 Indians.
A blacksmith when I was twelve, with a knife.
5 Indians in self defence (behind a very safe rock).
One man who bit me during a robbery.
Brady, Hindman, Beckwith, Joe Clark,
Deputy Jim Carlyle, Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell.
And Bob Ollinger. A rabid cat,
birds during practice,

These are the killed.

(By them)–
Charlie, Tom O’Folliard
Angela D’s split arm,

and Pat Garrett

sliced off my head.
Blood a necklace on me all my life.

*

Christmas at Fort Sumner, 1880. There were five of us together then. Wilson, Dave Rudabaugh, Charlie Bowdre, Tom O’Folliard, and me. In November we celebrated my 21st birthday, mixing red dirt and alcohol–a public breathing throughout the night. The next day we were told that Pat Garrett had been made sheriff and had accepted it. We were bad for progress in New Mexico and cattle politicians like Chisum wanted the bad name out. They made Garrett sheriff and he sent me a letter saying move out or I will get you Billy. The government sent a Mr. Azariah F. Wild to help him out. Between November and December I killed Jim Carlyle over some mixup, he being
a friend.

Tom O’Folliard decided to go east then, said he would meet up with us in Sumner for Christmas. Goodbye goodbye. A few days before Christmas we were told that Garrett was in Sumner waiting for us all. Christmas night. Garrett, Mason, Wild, with four or five others. Tom O’Folliard rides into town, leaning his rifle between the horse’s ears. He would shoot from the waist now which, with a rifle, was pretty good, and he was always accurate.

Garrett had been waiting for us, playing poker with the others, guns on the floor beside them. Told that Tom was riding in alone, he went straight to the window and shot O’Folliard’s horse dead. Tom collapsed with the horse still holding the gun and blew out Garrett’s window. Garrett already halfway downstairs. Mr. Wild shot at Tom from the other side of the street, rather unnecessarily shooting the horse again. If Tom had used stirrups and didnt swing his legs so much he would probably have been locked under the animal. O’Folliard moved soon. When Garrett had got to ground level, only the horse was there in the open street, good and dead. He couldnt shout to ask Wild where O’Folliard was or he would’ve got busted. Wild started
to yell to tell Garrett though and Tom killed him at once. Garrett fired at O’Folliard’s flash and took his shoulder off. Tom O’Folliard screaming out onto the quiet Fort Sumner street, Christmas night, walking over to Garrett, no shoulder left, his jaws tilting up and down like mad bladders going. Too mad to even aim at Garrett. Son of a bitch son of a bitch, as Garrett took clear aim and blew him out.

Garrett picked him up, the head broken in two, took him back upstairs into the hotel room. Mason stretched out a blanket neat in the corner. Garrett placed Tom O’Folliard down, broke open Tom’s rifle, took the remaining shells and placed them by him. They had to wait till morning now. They continued their poker game till six a.m. Then remembered they hadnt done anything about Wild. So the four of them went out, brought Wild into the room. At eight in the morning Garrett buried Tom O’Folliard. He had known him quite well. Then he went to the train station, put Azariah F. Wild on ice and sent him back to Washington.

*

In Boot Hill there are over 400 graves. It takes
the space of 7 acres. There is an elaborate gate
but the path keeps to no main route for it tangles
like branches of a tree among the gravestones.

300 of the dead in Boot Hill died violently
200 by guns, over 50 by knives
some were pushed under trains–a popular
and overlooked form of murder in the west.
Some from brain haemorrhages resulting from bar fights
at least 10 killed in barbed wire.

In Boot Hill there are only 2 graves that belong to women
and they are the only known suicides in that graveyard

*

The others, I know, did not see the wounds appearing in the sky, in the air. Sometimes a normal forehead in front of me leaked brain gases. Once a nose clogged right before me, a lock of skin formed over the nostrils, and the shocked face had to start breathing through mouth, but then the moustache bound itself in the lower teeth and he began to gasp loud the hah! hah! going strong–churned onto the floor, collapsed out, seeming in the end to be breathing out of his eye–tiny needle jets of air reaching into the throat. I told no one. If Angela D. had been with me then, not even her; not Sallie, John, Charlie, or Pat. In the end the only thing that never changed, never became deformed, were animals.

*

Mmmmmmmm mm thinking
moving across the world on horses
body split at the edge of their necks
neck sweat eating at my jeans
moving across the world on horses
so if I had a newsman’s brain I’d say
well some morals are physical
must be clear and open
like diagram of watch or star
one must eliminate much
that is one turns when the bullet leaves you
walk off see none of the thrashing
the very eyes welling up like bad drains
believing then the moral of newspapers or gun
where bodies are mindless as paper flowers you dont feed
or give to drink
that is why I can watch the stomach of clocks
shift their wheels and pins into each other
and emerge living, for hours

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The Conversations

The Conversations

Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

FIRST CONVERSATION SAN FRANCISCO

In the spring of 2000,Walter Murch, at the suggestion of Francis Ford Coppola, began to re-edit Apocalypse Now, a film he had worked on back in 1977—1979 both as sound designer and as one of the four picture editors. Twenty-two years later, all the takes and discards and “lost” scenes and sound elements (carefully preserved in climate-controlled limestone caves in Pennsylvania) were brought out of vaults to be reconsidered. Apocalypse Now is a part of the American subconscious. And in some way this was the problem.Having dinner with the novelist Alfredo Véa in San Francisco, after spending my first day with Walter at Zoetrope, I mentioned what was happening with the re-editing of Apocalypse Now, and Véa immediately launched into Marlon Brando’s monologue about the snail on a razor blade. This was followed, during dinner, by Véa’s precise imitation of Dennis Hopper’s whine: “What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? . . .” For Véa, who fought in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now was the movie about the war. It was the work of art that caught it for him, that gave him a mythological structure he could refer to, that showed him what he had gone through and would later write about himself in books such as Gods Go Begging. So those working on the new Apocalypse Now were aware that there would be problems connected with their dismantling and restructuring a “classic.” It was now public property.

“It has become part of the culture,” said Murch. “And that’s not a one-way street, as you know from your writing. As much as a work affects the culture, the culture mysteriously affects the work. Apocalypse Now in the year 2000 is a very different thing from the physically exact-same Apocalypse Now in the second before it was released in 1979.”

The idea for a new version grew out of Coppola’s desire to produce a DVD of Apocalypse Now with a number of major scenes that were–for reasons of length–eliminated from the 1979 version. Also, 2000 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, so it seemed appropriate to re-evaluate editorial decisions that had originally been made while the war was still a vividly painful bruise on the nation’s psyche. But rather than have the restored scenes appear in isolation, appended in their own chapter, why not integrate them into the body of the film as originally intended? The problem was that the editing and sound work on the excised material had never been finished, and one scene in particular was eliminated before it was completely shot. Fortunately, the negative and original sound for all this material were perfectly preserved in original laboratory rolls, and could be retrieved, two decades later, as if the film had been shot a few weeks earlier.

And so Walter Murch was now working in San Francisco, in the old Zoetrope building. Mostly he had to collect and reconsider the material for three large sequences that were cut from the film in 1978–a medevac scene involving Playboy Bunnies; further scenes with Brando in the Kurtz compound; and a ghostly, funereal dinner and love scene at a French rubber plantation. In Eleanor Coppola’s book about the making of the film, she writes of this scene:

I heard the French plantation scene is definitely out of the picture. It never seemed to fit right. I am one of the people who liked it, but it did stop the flow of Willard’s journey. Today I was thinking about all the days of agony Francis went through during the shooting of that scene. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the set and the cast flown in from France. Now the whole thing will end up as a roll of celluloid in a vault somewhere.

“The film acquired a body in the absence of these limbs,” said Murch, speaking of those missing scenes. “Now we’re trying to sew them back on, and who knows? Whether the body will accept or reject or find the addition difficult is something we’re struggling with right now. I have a sense of it and it’s actually been going quite well, but until we finally step back and look at the work as a whole, we won’t be able to say whether this will be artistically successful or whether it’s simply going to be a curiosity piece for those who were already interested in the film.”

The three scenes are the major additions in the new version of the film, but there are many other small changes that Murch and his colleagues were making– additions that give a different tone to much of the film. There is more humour, and with the addition of bridges between episodes that had been cut because of time concerns the film has also become less fragmentary. Those previously missing elements, said Murch,“were casualties of the hallmark struggle in every editing room: How short can the film be and still work? Even though Francis had final cut, he was as acutely aware as anybody of the strictures of getting a film into the theatres as lean as it could be.With the new version, that particular drive–for compression above all–is not as compelling.”

Much of our first conversation took place during four days in July 2000, while Walter worked on the new version of the film. Our talk during those days dealt with the “new” scenes but also with the differences and similarities between writing and editing, music, and his feelings about other editors. We talked as Walter worked on the Avid in his editing room at Zoetrope and later continued over lunch at a Chinese restaurant on Columbus Avenue. The new version of Apocalypse Now Redux would not open in theatres for almost a year, and Walter was still uncertain about several changes.

We began, however, by talking about the early days and how he became involved with the world of sound and eventually film.

HUMBLE SOUNDS

O: You’re an editor who works in sound as well as picture. You created “soundscapes” for films such as Apocalypse Now. When did you first become interested in this landscape of sound?

M: It was with me from as early as I can remember.Maybe I heard things differently because my ears stuck out, or maybe because my ears stuck out people thought I would hear things differently, so I obliged them. It’s hard to say. What’s true is that if words failed me I would switch to sound effects, I would imitate the sound of something if I didn’t know its name. Back then there was an animated cartoon character, a boy named Gerald McBoing-Boing, who spoke in sound effects instead of words, and he was able to communicate with his parents this way. That was my nickname:Walter McBoing-Boing.

Around that time the tape recorder was becoming available as a consumer item. The father of a friend of mine bought one, so I wound up going over to his house endlessly to play with it.And that passion, which was a kind of delirious drunkenness with what the tape recorder could do, completely possessed me. I eventually convinced my parents that it would be a good idea if our family had one, because we could then record music off the radio and wouldn’t have to buy records. In fact, I rarely used it for that, but I would hold the microphone out the window, recording sounds of New York. I would construct little arrangements of metal, and tape the microphone to them, striking and rubbing the metal in different places. It was fascinating.

And then I discovered the concept of physically editing tape–that you could rearrange it by cutting out sections and putting those sections in a different order.You could record two things at different times and juxtapose them, getting rid of the middle, or you could turn the tape upside down and play it backwards, or flip it over and play it back muffled, or any combination of these things.

O: So did European movements such as musique concrète in the fifties inspire you?

M: Definitely. I came home from school one day and turned on the classical radio station,WQXR, in the middle of a program. Sounds were coming out of the speaker that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I turned the tape recorder on and listened for the next twenty minutes or so, riveted by what I was hearing. It turned out to be a record by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry–two of the early practitioners of musique concrète. I could hear a real similarity with what I had been doing–taking ordinary sounds and arranging them rhythmically, creating a kind of music on tape. In France at that time, people would go to concerts and a big speaker would be wheeled out onstage. Somebody would come out and turn the tape recorder on with a flourish, and the audience would sit there patiently listening to this composition being played back. Then at the end they’d all applaud. This was the future!

O: You were how old when this hit you?

M: Ten or eleven, something like that. It was intoxicating to realize that somebody else was doing the same things I was.Up to that point I’d thought that this was just my strange little hobby. But here was validation. There were adults in the world who took it seriously. I felt like Robinson Crusoe finding Friday’s footprint in the sand.

O:And these were essentially documentary recordings with an artistic structure?

M: It was an early, technically primitive form of sampling. What’s strange– only in retrospect–is that I didn’t follow through with it. By the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had relegated all of this passion to my pre-adolescence–I thought I now had to get serious. Maybe I was going to be an architect. Or an oceanographer. Was I going to be . . . what? It was only in my early twenties that I discovered those early interests all came together in film.

O: Did someone like John Cage interest you,were you interested in what he was doing?

M: My father was a painter and tangentially involved in Cage’s world. We would go to some of his concerts. I appreciated them, but I was moved more by the idea of what he was doing–that by taking humble sounds out of their normal context you could make people pay attention and discover the musical elements in them. It was very close to what my father was doing in his paintings: taking discarded objects and arranging them in ways to make you see them with new eyes.

O:Was the interest in editing film something that existed at the same time? Or did it come much later?

M: When I was a student at Johns Hopkins, a group of us made some short silent films, and I discovered then that editing images had emotionally the same impact for me as editing sound. It was intoxicating. You write eloquently about that in Anil’s Ghost, about the state of mind of a doctor in the middle of surgery: You get to a place where time is not an issue at all, and you’re oddly at the centre of things but also you are not.You’re the person doing it, yet the feeling is that you’re not the origin of it, that somehow “it” is happening around you, that you are being used by this thing to help bring it into the world. I felt that way when I was eleven, playing with my tapes. I didn’t know how to interpret it then, but I discovered, when I was twenty, that editing images gave me the same feeling. Then when I got to the University of Southern California as a graduate student, both of those things–sound and picture–came together.

As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old.

O: Yes–something that had and still has the feeling of a hobby, a curiosity.

M: At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what most excited me when I was eleven.

But I went through a whole late-adolescent phase when I thought: Splicing sounds together can’t be a real occupation, maybe I should be a geologist or teach art history.

O: Did you think of going into the sciences at all?

M: No. Although I was interested in them–and interested in math–as revelations of hidden patterns. What you do as an editor is search for patterns, at both the superficial and ever deeper levels–as deep as you can go.

The fact is that there is always much more film shot than can ever be included in the finished product: on average, about twenty-five times too much–which would mean fifty hours of material for a two-hour film. Sometimes the ratio is as high as a hundred to one, as it was on Apocalypse Now. And films are almost always shot out of sequence, which means that on the same day the crew could find themselves filming scenes from the beginning, the end, and the middle of the script. This is done to make the schedule more efficient, but it means that someone–the editor–must take on the responsibility for finding the best material out of that great surplus and putting it in the correct order. Although there is a universe of complexity hidden in those short words “best” and “correct.”

When it works, film editing–which could just as easily be called “film construction”– identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface. Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestrating of all those patterns, just like different musical themes are orchestrated in a symphony. It is all pretty mysterious. It’s right at the heart of the whole exercise.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

O: How did you go from being that boy in New York to someone working in film in California?

M: I was studying art history and Romance languages in Italy and Paris, in ’63—’64, the height of the French New Wave. I came back to the States buzzing with the idea of film, and then I realized that there were actually schools where you could study it, which I found incredible, delicious, almost absurd. I applied to a number of them, and miraculously won a scholarship to the graduate program at USC. Strangely enough, I only discovered that films needed sound when I got there: it was a revelation to me that the sound had to be recorded separately from the image and “cooked”–edited and mixed–before it was finished. But I immediately saw the connection with what I had been doing twelve years earlier, and that was exciting.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The English Patient
Excerpt

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill toward the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.

In the kitchen she doesn't pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.

She turns into the room which is another garden--this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling. The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.

Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet. She wets a washcloth and holding it above his ankles squeezes the water onto him, looking up as he murmurs, seeing his smile. Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.

She has nursed him for months and she knows the body well, the penis sleeping like a sea horse, the thin tight hips. Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint. He lies flat on his back, no pillow, looking up at the foliage painted onto the ceiling, its canopy of branches, and above that, blue sky.

She pours calamine in stripes across his chest where he is less burned, where she can touch him. She loves the hollow below the lowest rib, its cliff of skin. Reaching his shoulders she blows cool air onto his neck, and he mutters.

What? she asks, coming out of her concentration.

He turns his dark face with its gray eyes towards her. She puts her hand into her pocket. She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.

He whispers again, dragging the listening heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months before he died.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Tay John

Tay John

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : classics
More Info
Excerpt

One

The time of this in its beginning, in men’s time, is 1880 in the summer, and its place is the Athabaska valley, near its head in the mountains, and along the other waters falling into it, and beyond them a bit, over Yellowhead Pass to the westward, where the Fraser, rising in a lake, flows through wilderness and canyon down to the Pacific.

In those days Canada was without a railway across the mountains. The Canadian Pacific was being built, but it was not till 1885 that the first train steamed over its rails to reach tidewater at Port Moody. Its crossing of the Rocky Mountains was by Kicking Horse Pass, more than two hundred miles to the south of Yellowhead. So that it might be built and that men might gain money from its building, Canada was made a dominion. British Columbia, a colony of England, became the most western province of the territory now stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In time another railway was built. It was called the Grand Trunk Pacific, and passed through the mountains at Yellowhead. That was in 1911.

Until that happened the country around Yellowhead and on the headwaters of the Athabaska, the Arctic’s most southern slope, was little changed from what it had always been. It was a game country, and men found meat when they travelled. In the summer the days were long and the nights only brief twilight between the sun’s setting and rising. Pine- and fir-trees grew in the valleys, and good grass on the flats and benches; and higher on the mountain slopes, close to the rock and snow, spruce and balsam. Poplar, birch and alder, and tall willows grew in the river bottoms; and everywhere was the sound of running water. In the winters the nights were long. Streams and lakes were frozen. Frost split trees. The wind blew up the Athabaska from the north, and blizzards rose in the valley. Still, sometimes it would be quiet, with the sun shining, and then a man’s voice talking could be heard two miles away across the snow.

For a long time fur brigades from Hudson Bay and Fort Garry on the prairies travelled the Athabaska valley. They used horses in the summer and dog-teams in the winter. At first they followed the river to its head, and at the Committee’s Punchbowl met those who had come up from the Columbia river valley with beaver skins. For these they exchanged rum and leather and pemmican and came back with the fur eastward. When the lower Columbia valley turned to the Americans and became part of their nation, the brigades swung out of the Athabaska lower down and crossed the mountains at Yellowhead Pass to trade with the Indians and white trappers along the Fraser as far down as Fort Prince George. In time the people around Fort Prince George began to send their furs out by the new Cariboo road to the Pacific, and fur brigades then ceased to travel through the Athabaska valley. The posts they had built in good places where there was game and fish, feed for their horses, and wood for their fires, were no longer used. Their roofs caved in under the snow, and wind blew the moss chinking from between the logs that walled them. Grass grew in the ruts of the trails. Along the trails “blazes,” filled with yellow pitch, burned into the tree bark with no one to see them, like lanterns left and forgotten.

In 1880 one man remained by the Athabaska river where it flowed through the mountains. He was tall, fair-haired and fair-bearded, and his blue eyes, stung with the snow, streamed with water when he stood outside and faced the sun. He lived in a cabin on a point above the river where the trail leaves it to follow the Miette to Yellowhead Pass. He trapped and hunted, and traded with bands of wandering Indians. Once a year, in the spring, he took his furs eastward out of the mountains by pack-horse to Edmonton. He was named Red Rorty, and was thought by himself and some others to be a strong man because sometimes on a still day he could be heard shouting from five miles off. He shouted at his horses when they were hard to catch, or at an Indian who had brought poor furs to trade. At other times he would shout when there was nothing to shout for, and would listen and smile when the mountains hurled his voice — rolled it from one rock wall to another, until it seemed he heard bands of men, loosed above him, calling one to another as they climbed farther and higher into the rock and ice.

Much alone, he was given to hearing strange sounds and to seeing a tree far off as a man, or a bunch of trees down the valley from his cabin as a group of men advancing towards him. So that he could see better what was around him and that no one might come upon him unawares, he had made a wide clearing around his cabin, which he kept free of willows and all bush tending to grow there. A pine-tree on the edge of the clearing, ninety yards from his door, was marked with lead from his rifle because of the times in the moonlight he had looked out and thought he saw it moving before him.

His cabin — tidy, with hard earth for its floor — held a stove, a table, a bed, and a bench to sit on. Pack-saddles, bridles, and blankets were hung by its door under the eaves. Its logs were white-washed, so that it gleamed against his eyes from far off when he returned from hunting.

Red Rorty was the first son of many born on a homestead in Bruce County in Ontario. He came west when he was young and worked on the land near Fort Carry. After a while he got a job wrangling horses on a party sent out to the mountains to line the rivers into the contours of the land. When the party disbanded at Edmonton he returned to the Athabaska valley with four horses and the money he had saved, and built himself a cabin — for of all the country he had seen he liked it the best.

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Paterson Ewen

Paterson Ewen

introduction by Michael Ondaatje
contributions by Ron Graham & Eric Fischl
edited by Matthew Teitelbaum
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Lost Classics
Excerpt

Introduction

A book that we love haunts us forever; it will haunt us, even when we can no longer find it on the shelf or beside the bed where we must have left it. After all, it is the act of reading, for many of us, that forged our first link to the world. And so lost books — books that have gone missing through neglect or been forgotten in changing tastes or worst of all, gone up in a puff of rumour — gnaw at us. Being lovers of books, we've pulled a scent of these absences behind us our whole reading lives, telling people about books that exist only on our own shelves, or even just in our own memory. This is what was on our minds one rainy afternoon in Toronto, as we sat around a dining-room table where the four of us, every few months, make manifest a sporadic but long-lived magazine called Brick: A Literary Journal.

By 1998, when we conceived of the "Lost Classics" issue, Brick had become a neighbourhood, full of essays and interviews that in turn became an international conversation: writers caught weeding, caught chatting over fences, full of chagrin and sometimes surprised to recognize each other after a season's quiet. So it felt natural to begin by asking some of our long-time contributors to tell us the story of a book loved and lost, books that had been overlooked or under-read, that had been stolen and never retrieved, or that were long out of print. We wanted personal stories and they began to pour in.
"Back in 1983, the novel received a fair amount of well-deserved attention..." John Irving wrote of The Headmaster's Papers, with a note of premonitory despair. Margaret Atwood described a Swedish novel, a tattered paperback found in a second-hand bookstore. "On the back of my copy are various encomiums, from the Observer, the Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph, the Glasgow Herald — 'a masterpiece,' 'the most remarkable book of the year,' and so forth. Still, as far as I know, Doctor Glas has long been out of print, at least in its English version."

Helen Garner recalled meeting the author of a beloved childhood book, unknown by anyone she knew but that she remembered vividly. "A real Australian person had written it!" she noted triumphantly. "We corresponded. I asked if she had a spare copy. She said she had only one left, but would lend it to me if I promised to return it. In due course it arrived. I hardly dared to open it. But when I did, out of its battered pages flowed in streams, uncorrupted, the same scary joy it had brought me as a child, before everything in my life had happened."

Before everything had happened. Before even the beloved book was entirely lost. The "Lost Classics" issue, as we called it, struck a chord that kept sounding long after publication. Essays continued to pour in on longed-for books of poetry, children's stories, travel diaries, novels. Why not a book of lost classics? More stories. More lost love.
Some of the newer essays describe a child's love affair with literature that is the beginning of a writerly discipline. The young reader discovers a place to enter another world and uses it as escape. Or, refuses to come out. As Robert Creeley says, "When young, I longed for someone who would talk to me and, often as not, that person was found in a book." If childhood stories are where we learn about plot, rhythm and narrative, they also teach us morals, while explaining the darker side of human nature. We read them when we are most susceptible and over the years they continue to inhabit and sustain us.

The essays we have selected for this collection are such memories of reading: they are that dialogue with the mind of an absent other, that conversation both silent and shared, that moment when a reader seems to have found the perfect mate. But loving is a unique torment if the beloved isn't known to friends, family, the unwilling listener who must be convinced. Many versions of lostness are investigated here. There is the book that disappears from the house during a divorce, and a lost manuscript that becomes a cult classic. There is the writer who commits suicide after finishing his work, and a reader who exhumes it from the remainder bin. There are the missing libraries of India and a book that survived in spite of the odds. The essays we've chosen come from all over the world and the books are of every kind. But lost books are like dying languages: the fewer the people who remember them, the greater the risk that they will disappear for good. When, for whatever reason, a book that means much is lost, there is the need to write a eulogy, an explanation, a defence.
Perhaps this anthology maps the inner lives of its contributors. Perhaps we are set in our ways through the books that we've loved. The book mentioned to a young Harry Mathews at a grown-up cocktail party, for example, infected his imagination so seriously, that many years later, he tracked it down. And stole it. The primer called I Want to Go to School, published by the People's Publishing House of China, set Anchee Min in the direction of her writing life. One book enumerates a system of imaginary knowledge. Another causes a journey. There are lost survival manuals and lost warnings.

Like the magazine itself, our anthology is a conversation. Michael Helm remembers a book of poetry by Philip Levine, while Levine remembers another book of poetry. Eden Robinson writes about awakening to science fiction as a teenager in Kitamaat Village. Others write of Shangri-La and Islandia. Rudy Wiebe describes the strange foretelling of his sister's death. Russell Banks discovers a lost companion to Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps, and Cassandra Pybus writes of a lost partner to Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Caryl Phillips conjures Orson Welles; W. S. Merwin digs up an archeological classic; and Nancy Huston recalls a knell unheard. And, reminding us of the whole enterprise of writing in the first place, Laird Hunt quotes Borges on "a certain class of objects, very rare, that are brought into being by hope." A perfect description of this anthology about books we have loved and lost and loved again. —The Editors, Brick: A Literary Journal

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Essential Tom Marshall
Excerpt

'Words For H.S.K.M. (1910-91)'

The Kennedy profile recumbent
is like a craggy mountain range
rising above the oak casket.

Time's scythe has had its way with her.
The Ancient of Days has drawn a line
around her. She survives herself no more.

For years she had been receding
little by little. She had been
remembered in dreams as younger, stronger.

A shrunken woman, kindly, distant,
not that terrifying sorceress
not yet the strong, protective matrona.

Mother, in your darkness and light
I grew. Your love of music and reading.
Your hatred of space and freedom.

Curious contradictions of
anxiety, nerves, depression
persisting through generations

of Kennedys working the land.
Whence comes all that depth of darkness?
From Scotland's internecine turmoil?

Human mysteries persist, deepen.
There is no resolution. Only pain
familiar and defining, strengthening.

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