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Touch of Evil: Orson Welles's 'worldizing' of the sound


Touch of Evil: Two file boxes from Ernie Nims
Walter Murch Film-maker
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But also, the politics of how he wrote this memo really very quickly, and how he had phrased things politically to try to get what he wanted. And in the end he did not get everything he wanted. We were able to... We were told by the studio that everyone was dead who had worked behind the camera on the film. And Rick, who's a bit of a detective, thought, 'I bet you they're not. Let's see if we can find Ernie Nims, who was head of post-production at Universal at that time. Who had been an editor on The Stranger, a film that Welles directed in 1946.' And so he just started looking through the phone book in Los Angeles, and came up with a few names like that, and started dialling. And I think on the fourth or fifth call he found Ernie Nims, who was I think in his late 80's by that time, 86 or so. 'Is this Ernie Nims?' 'Yes.' 'Are you the Ernie Nims who worked with Orson Welles?' 'Yes, that's me.' 'We're doing Touch of Evil.' 'What a fantastic film, yes, the problem with Orson was, he was just ahead of his time. He was 20 years ahead of his time. If you made that film in 1977, instead of '57 there would have been no problem. But you know, he was ahead of his times, you know?' 'Do you have any additional material?' 'Yes, I've got a couple of boxes up in the attic. I'll tell you what – he said – I have to go play golf this afternoon. I'll put them on the porch of my house. You guys can come and pick them up.' 'Wait a minute, we're in San Francisco, we're not in Los...' 'No, I'll put them on the porch. You can...' 'No, don't...' So click, he hung up. So we called somebody at Universal. 'Could you go to this address? And if there are two file boxes on the porch of this house, pick them up.' And sure enough there were. When we got them, and they were delivered to us up in Bolinas, which is where we were working, and they had great stuff in them, memos back and forth from Orson Welles to the studio, and with Ernie Nims, private memos. And a great section of memos from Welles to Henry Mancini, who was the composer of music for the film, about the kind of sound that Welles wanted for the film. And this was Mancini's big breakthrough film. He had been kind of struggling a bit in Universal Television. And this possibility of doing the music for this film was a big leap ahead for Henry Mancini.

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: Touch of Evil, Ernie Nims, Rick Schmidlin, Henry Mancini

Duration: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017