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'In case The Godfather is not a hit…'


The surprising reception of The Godfather
Walter Murch Film-maker
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When the film came out it was a big hit, The Godfather, and Francis [Ford Coppola] would go to screenings of the film to see an audience reacting to it because we had never previewed the film, so this was a learning process. And one of the things that took Francis, set him back, was that the murders at the end of the film, the audience, particularly in parts of the country, the audience was extremely vocal in wanting Michael to get revenge. So the audiences were cheering the murders, and this was not Francis's intention. And it was not our intention; the other people working on the film were... this should be seen as a kind of chilling episode where Michael is in the process of losing his soul. But it was interpreted by the audience as a... something that we should cheer because he's the main character. And you know, there was no... we didn't know what to do with that. But it was one of those examples in a film where you make a film intending one thing, and the film becomes a big success, but it's interpreted by the audience in a slightly different way. Over time – The Godfather was, you know, 40 plus years ago – and over time that reaction I think has mellowed. But at the time when the film came out in 1973, part of the appeal of the film was 'Michael gets revenge.' And it's just one of those curious slightly hot potatoes that as filmmakers; how do we do this? How do we metabolise this in our own reactions to the success of the film?

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, Michael Corleone

Duration: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2016

Date story went live: 01 March 2017