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Wordless take six


How sound can intensify performance
Walter Murch Film-maker
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There was a wonderful interview with a mafia person who was in hiding talking about this scene, this was Sammy the Bull Gravano, who killed 19 people. He said that sound convinced him that Mario Puzo was in the mafia because: 'that's exactly how I felt when I killed my first person.' It's just a sound effect. It's not in the book, first of all, it's a sound effect in the movie, and it's put in by this kid who grew up in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, had nothing to do with the Bronx and didn't' know the mafia at all. I was just trying to solve an aesthetic problem of how de we help the audience in this scene where there is no music and a lot of the dialogue is in Italian.

But it was one of those lessons for me that you could do this kind of thing and, I don't mean this in a bad way, you can get away with it. The audience doesn't say, 'What's that terrible sound? Why are we hearing that?' It makes Al Pacino, who gave a wonderful performance there if you look at his eyes, but it intensifies that. And I think most people don't even hear that sound; they don't register it really. What they register is Michael. And so the sound kind of goes into the visual and the performance of Michael and intensifies it. So it was, on many levels, a lesson for me about what to do and how to do it. Not that I would repeat that same thing, but just the idea of metaphoric sound became very present in my mind at that point.

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: Sammy the Bull Gravano, Mario Puzo, Al Pacino

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017