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The audience rejects the Super Collider story


The Superconducting Super Collider, Texas
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I remember, at the time, when we were first talking about working together, I said, 'Do you have anything about the Super Collider in Texas?' Which was the Americans' attempt to build an even more powerful collider in Texas. And Mark said, 'No, we don't, but we're planning on doing that.' And David Kaplan, the producer, got very excited, because he really wanted to do that, and to hear from an outsider like me, at the time, that I knew about this, and that I thought that was important.

So we wound up shooting a scene of David Kaplan going to the site of the Super Collider, which was now an abandoned warehouse in the middle of Texas, and, kind of, like, looking at the ruins of Persepolis or something. This... It was going to be built here, and now it's just an empty shell. And they actually made... I think they dug 14 miles of a 50 mile in circumference tunnel. There's a book written about it called The Hole in Texas. So it was a big deal. And much of... Ironically, the story of the... The history of... subsequent history of Wall Street would've been very different, because the plan at the Superconducting Super Collider was to have, as in CERN, to have 10,000 physicists doing advanced mathematics there. And when the whole thing collapsed, there were 10,000 physicists who had to go somewhere. And 5,000 of them went to CERN. The other 5,000 went to Wall Street, because the problems of advanced particle physics and the problem of Wall Street are not that different, which is, succinctly stated, the fire hose of data, that, in both cases, there is a unbelievably intense stream of data, and you have to create mathematical algorithms to pick the significant data points out of chaos.

And so the mathematics that were used in... to do that at Superconducting Super Collider were useful for doing credit default swaps, and other arcane, weird things, that probably never would've been even attempted if you didn't have the people doing the advanced mathematics. And most of them came from particle physics, or many of them did. And in fact, that's where the funding for this... Much of the funding for this film came from. Those same people who went to Wall Street and made a fortune, or relatively speaking, a fortune, felt slightly guilty about having abandoned the serene world of particle physics, and to compensate, contributed money to the making of this film. It's a way of paying back. So the fact that the film got made is due in part to the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas.

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: CERN, Superconducting Super Collider, Texas, Wall Street

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017