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How bad casting can sink a film


Al Pacino becoming a star
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The other side product, which I think is even additionally powerful, is the fact that you see, in the film, you see Al Pacino become a star. At the beginning of the film, you know, you have to go back to 1973 to... to imagine this. But at the beginning: 'Who is this guy? Michael, what?' You watch the film, and over the course of the film, at the end, you are convinced that he is the new Godfather. And here's a movie star. This guy has 'it', whatever that is. But that's exactly what happens in the story. Michael, who is the... Not the nobody, but the one member of the family who is not going to become part of this family. He becomes the head of the family. And so he emerges in the story, from let's say, nobody, to the king. The reluctant prince becomes the king at the end. And that's what happens with Al Pacino.

Now, if it's Robert Redford, he doesn't look Italian. And you have to think intellectually, oh, yes, if you know there are some people in Sicily who don't look Sicilian. But very few people know that. And he's already a star. So for him to say, 'I'm not part of this.' 'You're already a star. What are you talking about?' You know, it's only convincing when you don't know that person.

So it's now, when we look at the film, this is 40 years later or more, none of that is obvious. But if you have to go back to the time, and imagine the world the way it was back in the early 1970s, all of these things are firing on all cylinders simultaneously. So it's this tapestry, really, of threads coming from above, the vertical casting. And then, the horizontal casting, and if you get it right, these threads bind together in a very strong and colourful way, the way the threads of a tapestry do. And you know, they look great, and they're strong. And they take whatever abuse you can hurl at them. They kind of bounce back. And it's a goal, I think, to which all films aspire. And yet, very few totally achieve it. That's not to discount the ones that don't achieve it because most films don't.

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 Godfather, Al Pacino, Robert Redford

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017