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Morningside Heights joins the 20th century


Television changes everything
Walter Murch Film-maker
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The crisis in that neighbourhood happened in the early '50s when television hit and television needed to have alternating current. Radios could work with direct current but not television, for reasons I don’t understand. So there was an uproar in the neighbourhood which was, we have to finally connect up to the rest of the world rather than be this isolated island of late 19th century technology. And so over a single weekend, everything powered down and people came in and did mysterious things with screwdrivers. And then on Monday, we joined the rest of the United States, the rest of New York, with using alternating current and everybody except for us bought a television. My parents didn’t believe in television. They liked radio and they liked records but television was… they were very hesitant about it which I kind of understood as a kid, but I had to put up with my school mates talking about the latest television program and I had no idea what they were talking about.

In retrospect, of course, I think this was a good thing. There’s lots of negative things to be said about overexposure to television, especially for young, developing minds and this is now a mega crisis with things like the iPad and the iPhone and other screen technologies. So this was an early version of this.

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: television, alternating current, direct current, radio

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017