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'Never complain, never explain'


Learning how to wrap expensive gifts
Walter Murch Film-maker
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That evening, Matthew phoned me and said, 'George is dropping out of this job. It's wrapping Christmas presents for George Cukor. It pays – whatever it was – $200', which was a lot of money. 'Yes', I said and so the next day, George was gone and I replaced George and there we were, two 22-year-old film students in the attic of George Cukor, who had won the academy award for My Fair Lady the previous year. And in today's dollars, it was probably $100,000 worth of gifts, at least, arranged in a descending pyramid from cigarette lighters at the bottom to fur coats and silver service for Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. And we were designated to get our grubby mitts on this stuff and actually make nice wrapping. And we rose to the challenge and I learned how to wrap Christmas presents which is a talent I still have. To do it quickly and neatly and make the bow nice and we never saw George until late in the process. At around 12.30, the Swedish cook would say, 'Lunch is on the table' and we would wind up in the kitchen with this woman, the Swedish cook, eating Cukor's leftovers from the night before, which were delicious, and doing the best job that we could imagine doing.

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: George Cukor

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017