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The Valkyries attack scene still has an effect on me


George Solti's intervention saves The Valkyries scene
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And then I saw something that made me turn the machine off because I knew it just wasn't going to work and it had nothing to do with the metrics. It had to do with the colour value of the shots that I was looking at and the tonal values of Leinsdorf's recording. At the point that Solti had emphasised the brass, Leinsdorf was emphasising the strings. And without knowing it, as I was editing the film, the collusion of brass and a certain colour blue in the ocean, there are a number of shots where you are looking down out of the helicopters at the ocean, and that blue and that brassy sound work together synergistically to produce something that was to me correct and even thrilling. And when I heard the Leinsdorf, the blue looked dead, and the sound sounded disappointing. So they cancelled each other out in my view. So I went up to Francis [Ford Coppola] and I said, 'I don't think it was going to work. There's only one recording, the Leinsdorf, and it has this problem. The tonal values of it are significantly different.'

And luckily for us, Francis made another effort and this time he actually got in touch with Sir George himself, explained the situation and Solti said, 'Of course, dear boy. Why didn't you talk to me in the first place?' And Solti issued instructions to Decca and Decca opened up their hearts and gave us the material. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, this all happened so late that we were never able to get hold of the original masters of the recording. But what's in the film is a transfer from the vinyl LP of the Solti recording. But that's what Kilgore... Robert Duvall, would have done. He wouldn't have been able to get hold of the masters; he would have done a transfer from the LP recording. And we manipulated the sound so much to make it sound like it was coming out of these big broadcast tannoy horns and adding echo and other things. So that even if we had gotten a hold of the masters, I think it would've wound up sounding very similar to what it sounds like in the film.

Born in 1943 in New York City, Murch graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. His career stretches back to 1969 and includes work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has been referred to as 'the most respected film editor and sound designer in modern cinema.' In a career that spans over 40 years, Murch is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola, beginning in 1969 with The Rain People. After working with George Lucas on THX 1138 (1971), which he co-wrote, and American Graffiti (1973), Murch returned to Coppola in 1974 for The Conversation, resulting in his first Academy Award nomination. Murch's pioneering achievements were acknowledged by Coppola in his follow-up film, the 1979 Palme d'Or winner Apocalypse Now, for which Murch was granted, in what is seen as a film-history first, the screen credit 'Sound Designer.' Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three, for best sound on Apocalypse Now (for which he and his collaborators devised the now-standard 5.1 sound format), and achieving an unprecedented double when he won both Best Film Editing and Best Sound for his work on The English Patient. Murch’s contributions to film reconstruction include 2001's Apocalypse Now: Redux and the 1998 re-edit of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil. He is also the director and co-writer of Return to Oz (1985). In 1995, Murch published a book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, in which he urges editors to prioritise emotion.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Valkyries, Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, George Solti

Duration: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017