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The dangers of changing the rules in the middle


Single vs. multiple point of view
Walter Murch Film-maker
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We talked earlier about the single point of view, which in my experience, classically is... I mean, in the films I've edited, the classic examples are [The] Conversation and Talented Mr. Ripley, which are told from a single point of view, for the reason that the main characters in each of those films are problematical characters that are not user-friendly for an audience. They're not the normal kind of heroes for whom you root, for various reasons. And so a solution that's made at the screenplay level and the directing level is: never let the audience have any other options than to watch the film. Which means: a single point of view. And eventually, if the film is good enough, you will come to care for these people simply because there's no let-up. It's like, in a good sense, you're hostage to the film, and you begin to admire the person who is holding you hostage, even though if you stop to think about it, it's like, 'Why am I here?' Whereas Cold Mountain has multiple points of view, Ada and Inman, and when you have multiple points of view, there are...

To slightly oversimplify it, there are two solutions to that problem. And that's what I would call the divergent system, which is the solution that [The] Godfather adopted, American Graffiti adopted it. And that's: we are going to set a scene early on in the film, where all of the main characters are seen geographically in close relationship with each other. In Godfather, it was the wedding, everyone was brought to the wedding. And you saw Tom Hagen, you saw Fredo, you saw Michael, you saw Don Corleone, you saw the other families, you saw Connie. There they all are, and they're all exhibiting behaviour that is a thumbprint of their characteristic, and you get to see them, even physically, in relationship to each other. And once that's established, you can show the points of view and you can go with Tom Hagen to Los Angeles. You know who he is and you know his relationship to Don Corleone. And then you can cut back to Michael, and then you can cut to Sonny Corleone, to Fredo, and you can navigate the kaleidoscope of all of these different points of view, because you have a secure base from which to operate.

Against that arrangement is the convergent approach, which is to tell a story with multiple points of view, but begin with one story and then seemingly arbitrarily, cut to another story that doesn't seem to have any relationship to the first, and then you follow that. And then you cut back to the first, follow that, and cut back to the second. And then eventually, and as a screenwriter you have to decide where this point is, these two stories will merge. And this will intersect with that. The extreme example of this is [The] Godfather Part II, where the point of convergence is so late in the film that it exists outside the film. That we're looking at Don Corleone as he emerged from a childhood in Sicily, and then we're looking at Michael Corleone as he is navigating the heights of power of his empire in Lake Tahoe. And we're just intercutting these two stories, and the point of convergence is the moment that Don Corleone himself comes into the room and meets the young Michael, who is about to go to war as a Marine. In fact, the film stops before that moment. You hear Don Corleone's voice, seemingly, out in the hallway, but you're just ending on Michael sitting at the table, wondering what he's going to say to his dad when his dad comes into the room. 'I've decided to enlist in the Marines because I don't want to be part of this family.' And in both cases, the audience can enjoy those multiple points of view, because in a convergent system, we know they're going to meet and mesh. Although in Godfather II, it's an extreme version of that. And in Godfather I or American Graffiti, you see everyone together at Mel's, at the drive-in at the beginning. They're all, you know, there with, in a sense, little virtual badges that say, 'Hello, my name is Curt, I want to leave this terrible town', or whatever.

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: Cold Mountain, The Conversation, Talented Mr. Ripley, The Godfather, American Graffiti, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III

Duration: 5 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017