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'This is one of those moments': Bob Evans approves our work


The score for the horse's head scene
Walter Murch Film-maker
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And the meeting broke up, and Francis and I got in the car together to drive back to the studio, and Francis said, 'Well, good luck, Walter.' And I said, 'What do you mean, good luck?' He said, 'No, I have to go back up to San Francisco. I'm directing Private Lives for the ACT Theatre Company, Noël Coward's play.' I said, 'Francis, we're finishing The Godfather.' And he said, 'No, I know, but I agreed to do it, you know? You can do it, it'll be fine.'

So you know, I had this hot potato in my lap, which was, how do I... what do I do with the music to make Bob Evans happy with the film? Francis said, 'Call me if there's a problem', but you know, it was clear that he was not going to be at the coalface with me in this problem. And I sat there thinking, what would Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, do? And one of the things he advised was, get inside the mind of your enemy. If you're going to fight somebody, understand how they think. So I thought, okay, I'll pretend I'm the head of the studio. And I played the music for the film in my mind, thinking, is that a problem? No, that's okay, that's okay.

And then I came up against... I came up with the music for the horse's head scene. And I listened to the music for that scene, and I thought, okay, here, Evans has a point. The music... the music that was written was written in counterpoint to the horror of the scene, and because it's a horse, there's a kind of carousel theme. But it plays as a nice piece of music deep into the scene. And Henry Mancini would never have done that. It would be a hard-hitting thing. This is the music that's written, so we can't turn that into Henry Mancini music, but what can we do? And the structure of the music was what's called A B A. So there's an A structure to the music, and then a shift in key to another piece, and then it goes back to the first key. And I had another transfer of the music made, so I now had two copies of the music. And I shifted the second copy up into the area of the first, so that the A music plays, and then the B part of the music plays, but superimposed on that is the A music from the first part. And then the A music plays, but now it plays superimposed with the B music, so there's a dissonance between the two keys of the music, and things are playing against each other. And judiciously mixed at the right proportion, it adds a kind of horror distortion to the music. And I sunk it up so that the first elements of that distortion happened at the moment that you might see the first blood on the pillow next to his head. And then of course, as the sheets are moved and more blood is revealed, it gets progressively more horrible.

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: The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, Sun Tzu, Henry Mancini

Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017