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Turning down Hurt Locker and its repercussions


Youth Without Youth: 'R' for nudity and metaphysics
Walter Murch Film-maker
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My experience of this, for the first time, was on Youth Without Youth. The film came out. It had a limited release. Francis [Ford Coppola] had, as we all do, great hopes for it. He would... He said he wanted it to run at a certain theatre in New York, and be at that theatre for six months, and that he would pay to have it be at that theatre. He knew that it was strange, but if it just kept at that theatre, people would eventually go to see it. Well, for various reasons, that did not happen. It played at that theatre, The Paris Theater on 58th Street, I think, 5th Avenue, but it did not perform well. People didn't want to go see the film. And there was another film that was hard on its heels.

And I, you know, I understand that the... It was based on a Romanian philosophical novel, and it didn't have a lot of action, and it was investigating things from a slightly sideways, artistic point of view. And this was the first film that Francis had directed in probably seven years. He had another project, very ambitious project set in New York called Megalopolis. It was a kind of science fiction film about the future of urban society, and that was dealt another... It was dealt a fatal blow, probably, by 9/11, that you couldn't talk about or even make a film about the reinvention of New York without mentioning the destruction of the Twin Towers. And once you start talking about that, that story becomes the main focus, which was not his intention. So that project eventually, sadly, got sidelined. And in order to start himself up again, he decided to make Youth Without Youth.

There was a review of the film that I found particularly apt. I think it was in the New York Times. And they gave the film a... It was a respectful, sort of grudging review. But at the end, it said, rated R for nudity and metaphysics. That's the only time, I think, that that particular rating has been published. And, you know, it is: it's an 'R' rated metaphysical film. But it... The great thing for me, as an editor, was this... It was, kind of, a sandbox in which I could explore all of these new, to me, and really, new to the industry, techniques of working with a very... With a highly manipulatable digital image. And that has continued for me over the last ten years or so, that every film I'd worked on, perhaps not as aggressively as that, I have found ways, you know, where it's suitable, to nudge the image.

And I think this is probably hard for cinematographers, because they put a lot of work into that framing, and to be essentially told by circumstance, 'No, that's not the final, we're going to change that, it's an awkward point, and should be discussed a lot, I think, of that...' You know, what is the correct dynamic between the framing that is selected at the time of shooting and the ultimate choice of the frame in the final version.

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: Youth Without Youth, New York Times, Megalopolis, New York, Twin Towers

Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017