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Dangers of becoming a star


Alan Ladd: Good but not great
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I was reading last night about Alan Ladd's life. And I mean, from what I know, it's kind of a tragic situation. He was able to achieve that moment. He never thought of himself as a great actor. You know, 'I'm not a good actor', he kept saying. And yet, something about him, the way he presented himself on screen, and the roles that he took, particularly in the '40s and early '50s, were right at that balance point that allowed somebody who was a good, but not a great actor. And for him that was a devastating thing of insecurity that gnawed away at him. And ultimately, there were shifts in public tastes, and shifts in the way the film industry worked that caused Alan Ladd to get side-tracked into a series of films that did not work. And the result was his early death under ambiguous barbiturate, alcohol circumstances sometime in the early 1960s, I think. But for a while, he was the biggest star in the world, in the late '40s, I think, Alan Ladd. And there was a tremendous tension there between what he was and what people projected onto him. But the key thing is that he was an actor who somehow at that time, given the films that were being made, the kind of films... That thing snapped into place, and that projection happened.

And the great thing about [The] Godfather, just to touch base with that again, is that the film itself is the story of the emergence of a personality, Don Corleone from somewhere to somewhere else. And you see it in the film. And that's paralleled in the emergence of Al Pacino as a star. He went into that film not a star. And at the end of the film he was a star. And you can hope that those things happen from time to time. And they do happen from time to time. But they are not... You can't count on them. There's some ineffable part that is very hard to predict.

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, Alan Ladd

Duration: 2 minutes, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017