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Youth Without Youth: My first digitally shot film


Editing the Apocalypse Now scene in Jarhead
Walter Murch Film-maker
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One of the things that took me aside a little bit in the screenplay of Jarhead was that there was a scene in the screenplay and in the book, if I'm remembering correctly, where the soldiers watch Apocalypse Now to get them charged up. And I thought, 'Is this really something I should be doing?' Because it's... Taking a sequence that I edited in Apocalypse Now, and putting it into a film, and re-editing it in the context of: this is a film that the children are... that the soldiers are watching, and they're getting psyched up about it, whereas the original intention in Apocalypse Now was for you to be excited, but horrified at what you were looking... This is the attack... The Valkyries attack on the village. And the intention in Apocalypse was, yes, we want to stir you up, but we also want you to be horrified at what's going on.

And in the film, and in the intentions of the military people in the film, none of that mattered. It was simply, this is a visceral scene, it's going to get the soldiers stirred up so that they're going to go into battle. And it's a moral, ethical dilemma, in miniature. But I rationalised it the way many people rationalise these things by saying, 'Well, it is going to be done, so it's better that I do it than somebody else does it, because I know the material so well that I can figure out something that would be harder for other people to figure out.'

So, at a certain in the process of editing, I found myself editing this scene, where the Valkyries attack is on the screen, and then we cut to the reverse angle of Swofford [Jake Gyllenhaal] with veins in his neck, pumping up, getting really excited about what he's seeing on the screen. And I got into it, you know, you can convince yourself of anything. And it didn't take much to... For me to get into it. But it did give me that... A little of an extrasensory feeling. I felt like I was a little outside of myself as I was doing it, simply because it was very easy to imagine myself—whatever it was—25 years earlier, in an editing room, editing that very scene, and now here I am editing it on Final Cut Pro, digitally, for a film of a very different sensibility.

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: Jarhead, Apocalypse Now

Duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017