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The Three Fathers of Film: Gustave Flaubert


The Three Fathers of Film: Ludwig van Beethoven
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The other side of that argument is that, in 1894, we knew exactly what to do with film, and very quickly, within less than the space of a generation, within 20 years, we had Birth of a Nation. So the world that we live in now, which is the world of a big feature film shown to lots of people on a mass scale, that went from nothing to fully implemented in less than 20 years. Why did that happen so fast? Didn't it... wouldn't it take more time to figure all of this out? It just... it seemed to explode. And that took me down another pathway to thinking about what... who were the people who really invented motion pictures?

There was, of course, the Lumière brothers, and the Edison, who did the... And the William Dickson, who did the invention of the mechanical nature of it. How do we actually make photographs move? But then the question is: what do we do with it? And what I would propose is that there were two, at least, two other streams contributing to this. One of the streams I will name: 'Beethoven'. And it was principally him, but it could be other people as well. And Beethoven, let's say, invented dynamism in music, that the music pre-Beethoven was, what we call, classical music. Mozart and Haydn are the best examples of this. And the form of those... The music that they produced, for various cultural reasons, was what you might call an architectural form, that each movement of the sonata, or whatever it might be, is the composer introducing us to a room within the palace of this piece of music, and showing us the architecture of this room, and allowing us to explore, in all of its variety, this particular room of the movement of this piece of music. And then that comes to an end, and the door opens up to the next room, and we see a different room that has a different architectural shape, and we explore all of this. And then that comes to an end, and we go into the next room, and so on. So there's an orderliness to it, that it suggested that the... Some of the chaos of the 17th and early 18th century needed to be calmed down, all of the wars between the various European states needing calming, and classical music was a way of calming things down. I don't know what the answer is, but that style of music was in place.

And Beethoven came along, and his early music is sort of like that, but then it's as if he becomes impatient with that model, the architectural model, and changes the rules to a more natural model. He was a great walker. He loved nature. And when you're in nature, you aren't in a room, you're in a complex natural environment where things can happen, sudden thunderstorms can happen. And he... his music begins to evoke that kind of a world, in the sense that, in any one movement, he's not afraid to change the rhythmic signature of the movement to something completely different, to go from a certain mass number of instruments to a single instrument, and keep that instrument going for a while, and then counterpose that with something coming in from the side, and then suddenly explode into a mass of notes, and then go back to something simple, and then introduce a different rhythmic signature.

And the people who were exposed to this early, who were used to the other way of making music, found this, like, crazy. I forget who it was, one composer said of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, 'Beethoven has just written his passport to the madhouse', because that's how it seemed to them. It... another music critic looking at one of the other symphony said, 'It's as if Beethoven puts crocodiles and doves in the same cage.' So their experience of the previous music was sitting down and having a nice conversation with somebody at a coffee house. Here, it's like they're sitting down, and somebody starts explaining something, and then he suddenly stands up and starts shouting, changing the subject entirely, and then he sits down, and it's like, stick to the subject. What... but that wasn't what Beethoven wanted to do.

So there was a complete revolution in music as a result of Beethoven. And really, the rest of the 19th century was stamped with the imprint of Beethoven. Everyone had to come to terms with Beethoven, either by imitating him, or reinterpreting, or rejecting him. But he and others of his ilk were the dominant force all throughout the 19th century. And so, at the end of the 19th century, people were completely familiar with dynamism in music. It didn't strike them at all anymore as peculiar. In fact, certain composers like Wagner were moving away from that, into these long, luxurious lines that didn't have this kind of dynamism in them for long stretches.

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: Lumière brothers, William Kennedy Dickson, Thomas Edison, Ludwig van Beethoven

Duration: 6 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017