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'The singing semi': Recording up at 3AM


Am I an artist?
Walter Murch Film-maker
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Am I an artist? To quote Bill Clinton, it depends what the meaning of is is? Is I an artist? Historically, editors have been very wary of that self-description, because we exist in the shadow of the director. And, if we start getting an inflated idea of our abilities and our power, we lose, nobody will hire us. You know?

So, I think the short answer is, yes. What we do is certainly the equivalent is... certainly the equivalent of what other people who are called artists do, but we are not the ultimate controller of the film. There are people who can override our decisions. The director, and there are sometimes people who can override the director, which is to say, the producer, or the studio. So, the editor is several orders of magnitude down from that. And, I think generally speaking, we – we as a culture – we recognise that unless you have some degree of ultimate authority, you're not a real artist. So, in that sense, editors are not artists, because we are working with a given structure that is not ours. But, we inhabit that structure so thoroughly, that I think sometimes we achieve in moments things that can stand on their own alongside other forms of art, and things that are uniquely achievable by the craft/art of montage, which is the construction of images that move in time accompanied by sound. So, it's a complex question, and it deserves a complex answer because there's no... there's no short answer to it.          

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: film editing, art, artist, montage, craft

Duration: 2 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017