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What if film had been invented 100 years earlier?


The audience rejects the Super Collider story
Walter Murch Film-maker
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When we put the Texas scene in the film, the original thought was: we'll begin with that. We'll show the abandonment of this site, and then say, and there was another one of these really built in Geneva, and it turned out that that sent people... that sent audiences down the wrong track. We didn't quite know why at first, but we learned that it was because it seemed to put the film on a political footing, that it was going to be about the politics of United States government and capitalism versus European government and capitalism. And people told us, in the way that audiences tell you, 'We don't want that stuff.'

So then we thought, 'Well, we'll put it later.' And we'll put it after the breakdown of the Geneva... The Large Hadron Collider, because nine days after that collider started up, it broke down catastrophically. It was an explosion. And now, people are depressed, 'Will we put it back together again?' And the idea now was, 'Well, this moment reminds me – one of the physicists – of when the Super Collider was cancelled. This was a bad moment.' So let's go for a little bit of history. And what we learned there was that people didn't even care about it then, that that was... They were already committed to thinking about the Large Hadron Collider, and they didn't want to know about this other stuff. In a way, we... it was as if we had shown what a beautiful horse this Large Hadron Collider was, and then it had attempted to jump over a fence and it broke its leg. And now, we were saying, 'It reminds me of the other horse I had, where not only did it break its leg, but we had to put the horse down.' People just... they didn't want... they want: what's happened to the horse? They wanted to know. So, okay, we can't put it there.

Eventually, it did find a home. And we wound up condensing it severely, that idea of the Super Collider, and putting it as if it were part of a lecture that David Kaplan was giving, where, in fact, he was talking about other things, but we made it seem as if he talked about the Superconducting Super Collider as part of a lecture. So it was very brief, and it was seen as part of another way of laying the groundwork, but it wasn't a complete scene in itself. So it was a fascinating example of the kind of structural things that you wind up doing in any film. I mean, we do this kind of things in feature films all the time. But here, in documentaries, you can probably do it more because of the more, let's say, unstructured nature of what it is that we're trying to tell. But it was... That was one example out of many of those kind of transpositions that you do when you're trying to work out the structure of a story like this.

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: Superconducting Super Collider, Texas, Large Hadron Collider

Duration: 3 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017