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The turbulent birth of 35mm film


Edison's recording admitted to the National Registry of Significant Films
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And we married it up, and sent it back, made a print with the soundtrack on it. We remixed it at Lucas Film, who contributed the cost of the mixing out of their own pocket, which was not much, but significant, and sent it back to the library. And it's now part of the, you know... They admit a number of films every year into the registry, and I think it was admitted a couple of years later into the National Registry of Significant Films, because of this. The fact that historically, this is the first, there's nothing older than that. There are some rumours about something else older with Dickson speaking, but nothing has ever turned up. And the other fantastic thing about it is that we also have no recordings other than this, that we know about, of people speaking in an ordinary situation, kind of off-the-cuff speech. Most recordings from the 19th century are very presentational: 'And now, we will have the something, something', 'And now I'm going to read the speech that I gave at the conference of...' You know? It's the equivalent of those era-type photographs with people sitting very formally. We don't have any candid recordings, and this is a candid recording, because the significant part of it only lasts less than 20 seconds. Because that's how long Edison's films lasted. But there's another couple minutes ahead of that, with people talking to each other about what they're doing. And Dickson noodling around on the violin. And it, unfortunately, is so scratchy and so off-mic, that it's hard to tell what they're saying. But technology is making very big strides in that direction. The day may come when we can decode that information and actually hear it very clearly. Edison himself – he certainly was there – Edison talking to Dickson about what it is that they're doing, and the last-minute preparation before they actually push the button and record this thing.

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: National Registry of Significant Films, Thomas Edison, William Kennedy Dickson

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017