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Apocalypse Redux: From simple idea to a complex afterthought


The concept of a branching DVD
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The original idea, short of the theatrical release, was that it would be a DVD that was what was called a branching DVD, so that in the menu options, you would see something like the Nung River going into Cambodia, with scenes sprouting off of it like branches. And you would decide, by clicking on them, which new scenes you wanted to see, or none of them. So you could put this DVD in and just see the original film, or you could see it with just the French plantation, or with all of the new scenes but not the French plantation, or whatever. The technology of the time was not quite up to that, that we could not do that without some significant stall in the process, so it would not be a smooth blending. I think you could probably do it now. And this involved taking the soundtracks from 1979 and pulling them apart, and adding all of our complicated treatment to this never-before cut material in a finished form. The French plantation did not exist as a scene that we had cut out. As we were working in 1978 and '79, the French plantation would shrink, and it would shrink again, and shrink, until finally... I think in the last time it was in the film it was just a few disconnected images. And then we thought, 'Well, let's just... let's kill the darling and put it out of its misery.' So I had to reconstruct the French plantation scene from... I had to recut it from its essential elements. And that applied to all the other scenes as well. So that was a fantastic experience, doing this. The archival aspects of it, digging back 20 years into the past and pulling out this beautiful negative that had been stored very nicely, it was very clean.

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: Apocalypse Now

Duration: 2 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017