Live & Onstage
Sun, Apr 25 / 4:00 / Kabuki / STAT25K
The Great Speculator
By Shari Kizirian
While working on the restoration of an 1895 Thomas Edison film-sound experiment, Walter Murch detected fragments of conversations in the scratchy recordings—Edison and W.K.L. Dickson, he imagined, discussing how best to achieve their goal of synchronous sound. Murch’s technical proficiency allowed him to match sound and image, syncing the barcarolle from the light opera Les Cloches de Normandie with the film of Dickson playing the violin as two other Edison assistants danced. His boundless curiosity led him to ponder the indistinguishable conversation and to ask: What did 19th-century people sound like when they weren’t conscious of being recorded?
Part of the band of Northern California outsiders that revolutionized Hollywood in the 1970s, Walter Murch has been responsible for putting us inside the cruising cars of radio-blaring teenagers in American Graffiti (1973) and hypnotizing us with the menacing whirl of choppers over napalm-scorched jungle in Apocalypse Now (1979). Since the heady days of blockbuster indies, the multi-award-winning Murch has continued to expand the narrative possibilities of editing with films such as Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996), the first Oscar-winner for editing completed on a computer. In addition to his collaborations with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, Murch has worked with Fred Zinnemann, Philip Kaufman, Kathryn Bigelow and Sam Mendes, as well as directed his own film Return to Oz (1985). He also reconstructed another bit of cinema’s lost history, the director’s cut of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958).
Forthcoming and extremely articulate about his process, Murch has shared his accumulated wisdom in many interviews and articles, using a collection of lucid metaphors to express complex ideas. In his indispensable tome for editors In the Blink of an Eye (1995), he compares uncut footage to DNA code, the resulting film to its mysterious sequencing and a bad edit to bees unable to find their hive. After interviewing Murch at length for the 2002 book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing, author Michael Ondaatje called him a modern Renaissance Man. “[His] brain,” Ondaatje explained, “is always peering over the wall into the worlds of scientific knowledge and metaphysical speculation.” Fresh from editing Coppola’s Tetro (2009) and Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman (2010), this inquisitive and innovative maker—and resurrecter—of film history now speculates about cinema’s prehistory: What would an 18th-century cinema have looked like? Turning his nimble mind to another unanswerable question, Murch offers us an illuminating journey through the past.
Shari Kizirian is a writer and editor based in Rio de Janeiro.