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Unbearable Lightness of Being – my next project


Problem with visual precision
Walter Murch Film-maker
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At the time, sometime in the late 1980s, after working on Captain EO, I was editing a Showscan film, which is another kind of super, not 70 mm 3D, but 70 mm at 60 frames a second. And Dougie Slocombe, the cinematographer I had worked with on Julia, was a friend of the producers. And he came by to see what this was. And it was great to see him again. And I showed him the film. And I showed him how we were working with it. And he said, in his inimitable way, that if anything, we have a problem in 35 mm with things being too sharp. We're always trying to add a little smoke, or a little diffusion, or putting gauze over the lens. We rarely are saying, 'I wish this was sharper because of exactly this illusion that I'm talking about.' You don't want it to be too realistic, to see every pore on the skin, and all of these other things.  And that was his observation about what we were doing with this Showscan film, and by implication, IMAX films, and certainly by implication, you know, 8K 3D films. That there is a limit, which we are pushing against, of things being visually too precise. Because it starts to inhibit this ability to project the yearnings of the audience for whatever it might be onto the film itself.

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: Dougie Slocombe

Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017