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The idea to revive Orson Welles's Touch of Evil


The use of silence as an indication of danger
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And so it was a reconstruction, slightly, of the scene. But what we also did at that moment was completely take away all of the background sounds that had been implicit in the scene. The scene was shot in what was implied to be a subterranean room, with a grill, a street level grill. And you could see the sky through the window, and stairs coming down. And so we had, I don't know, distant clanking of tanks, and some voices, and other things that you're not really aware of. It's just part of the scene. But at the moment that the general decides, or the major decides, 'I'm going to do it', we killed all of that. And it just becomes quiet. And it's a version of the moment in Western films when the cowboys are sitting around the fire. And suddenly the crickets disappear. 'What's that?' That means: 'There's injuns out there'.

So we used a sudden transition to silence as an indication of danger. Something big is about to happen. And into that silence, we put the music that accelerates all of the events that led up to the actual cutting off of Caravaggio's thumbs. So it's not a fundamental reworking of the moment. But it's an intensification of the actual moment of decision that implies another... It could have gone another way. But we're now going to do it, actually. And then by changing the soundtrack at that point, it also shifts the environment in a way that tells you, on a kind of a gut level, this is now very bad. What's going to happen?

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: silence, sound effect, danger, interrogation, thumb, torture, western film

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017