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Film – medium with the biggest potential


Film as an art based on myths
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Various arts... When we look at the novel, which is an art form based on a code, in a sense, we have written a code, which is language, and when we read a novel, we are interpreting that code, that language, and ascribing emotion to it. But we are not being addressed overtly in emotion. We are being addressed in a code that elicits emotion from us, and maybe even elicits an instinct from us. Pornographic novels try to do that. They try, through a code, to make us respond instinctively to a certain situation. Music, on the other hand, talks on emotional terms. There's less logic there. To be a composer, you have to have real command of a language, which is how to write the music. But the music itself is talking in more purely emotional terms about things. And instinct is addressed by certain primal images that we can present, and primal sounds and rhythms that come along.

So I'm suggesting that each art form has a venue in which it is able to express itself. The unique thing about film, from this point of view, is that it can actually talk across all three of those spectrum, that simply by presenting an image, instantly, along with a certain kind of sound, you're talking... you're addressing the audience in an instinctual... What... They instantly react to what they just saw, whatever the power of that image is. On the other hand, by a certain artful construction of character, and the way it's presented, and certain kinds of music, you can elicit, without question, an emotional response to what you're looking at that is very hard to distinguish from your emotional response to a real life situation. And then, through the architecture of the story, and through the language with which it is expressed, and the sensibility of the construction of the story: does it make sense? Does it hang together? We're addressing this logical aspect to it.

And in that sense, I think it... First of all, it's unique. And it also is an echo, in a sense, an amplification of what you might call mythic structure at its most powerful. Because when myths – and I mean this not in: 'oh, that's mythical, that's...', but in the deep sense of what a myth is – myths work best when, at a... when they are addressing each of these levels, that when you hear a mythic story, somehow, your instincts and your emotion and your logic are stirred in equal proportions. And when a society is... agrees upon what the myths are – I'm just going to say, ancient Greece, to pluck one society out, you know, a certain period in ancient Greece's history, they all agreed on what are the myths – that society has a tremendous advantage because everyone has... is agreed upon what the story is. What is our society? And they agree on the logical level, they agree on the emotional level, and they agree on the instinctual level. And a good myth is capable of activating each of those operating systems in proportion.

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: language, novel, emotion, code, instinct, music, logic, film, mythic structure, myths, Greek mythology, society

Duration: 4 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017