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Why do we use music in films


Seeing things in slow motion
Walter Murch Film-maker
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I think it's a general principle that is very interesting to think about for the electromechanical senses, which are vision and sight and touch. Those are the three electromechanical senses.  Taste and smell are chemical senses. There, actual physical molecules are intersecting with receptors and sending out a chemical signal based on how they fit, very different than hearing, sight and touch, which are all about actual contact of things, not chemical. Waves of motion. And, in fact, again, if you put a vibrating pulse on your hand, you can't do it yourself, but a vibrator of some kind that's variable. If you set that at ten cycles per second you will feel individual pulses. If you set it at twenty five pulses per second, you just feel a constant pressure. You no longer feel the individual pulses any more. So, just as motion in image kicks in at twenty frames per second, let's say. So, also, tonality, music, kicks in at twenty cycles per second, and the sense of touch becomes continuous at more than twenty cycles per second. And, I think it has to do with the ability of this cache to contain information. And, it's been agreed upon by some Research and Development department, that to store high informational information in this cache, it should be limited to a certain value, otherwise there's inefficiencies that enter the system.

With one exception, I think. I mean, this is all highly speculative and interesting, people who are in near-death situations frequently talk about the world slowing down. I... the car was heading for a crash, and I saw everything in slow motion, I saw the glass come out of the window and I was able to duck before the metal object hit my head, and my life was saved, or not as the case may be. And, one way of thinking: what is this? Is that... there is the equivalent of a fire alarm behind a pane of glass. In case of fire, break glass. And when we are in life threatening situations, some threshold is broken, we know we are going to die very soon unless we can save ourselves. One of the ways we can save ourselves is by mobilising large areas of the brain to do this processing that I've been talking about in this fifty millisecond tube, and extending it over long periods of time, so that you're able to compare many, many frames of references, and the result of that is as if we are seeing things in slow motion, which allows us to duck the thing that might be heading our way, or to grab the rope that might save our life, otherwise that might be a blur. But we see it very quickly.

Certain cricketers, and baseball players, have trained themselves somehow, they say, to be able to see the stitching on the ball as it heads toward them. You have to take them at their word, and it may be part of their ability to somehow, either through DNA or some training that they do, metaphysical, to extend the length of this tube so that many, many multiple frames are being compared simultaneously, and the emotional effect of this is that the world is in slow motion, and you can hit that ball that to the ordinary person standing on the cricket pitch is just a white blur if they see it at all. But these people actually see it, in real time, but as if in slow motion, and they can hit it, in ways that other people who aren't able to do this would find completely impossible.

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: brain, slow motion, vision, cache, danger, cricket

Duration: 5 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 29 March 2017