Murch is a feature-length documentary about film and sound editor Walter Murch. Murch is perhaps the best known editor, which isn’t saying all that much, because editors are generally ignored. Oh, and he’s won three Oscars®.

For whatever reason, possibly because editing today uses quite a bit of technology, I’ve had an interest in editing for several years, and I have read Murch’s book In the Blink of an Eye. I have been known to say that screenwriters, cinematographers, and editors all have about the same impact on a film, before, during, and after filming respectively, but editors get the least attention of the three.

The documentary mostly features Murch as a talking head, though it also has clips from the films he has edited and/or done sound for (THX 1138, The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, and Jarhead), as well of some segments showing him working. The talking head segments are also made more interesting with unusual editing, often mirroring the subject being discussed.

The directors, Edie and her husband David Ichioka, were there to introduce the film. Edie was a former assistant to Murch. [I also find it interesting that the directors are listed on IMDb under what I assume is David’s original last name, but they are listed on the film festival web site and the film’s official site by her last name.] They noted that making this film has caused them to see details in many of Murch’s films in a whole new way, and their hope was that we would get some of that as well.

After the screening, Walter Murch came down to answer questions from the audience. Here are a few things I wrote down:

  • He started by commenting on the Geneva Convention scene from The English Patient, which was included in the documentary, lamenting that now it’s the U.S. that ignores it
  • He had no part in the editing of this documentary
  • The documentary was shot in London in two sessions – he was there for the Cold Mountain press tour, while the directors were there for Corpse Bride
  • How do you decide if music is needed and if so which music? He said that the director is at least involved in the tone if not in the exact details – music can be a powerful and potentially dangerous force – he tells film students to expect miracles – he prefers to find the visual tone before adding sound
  • The Conversation is a film about sound told from sound person’s point of view edited by someone (Murch) who started in sound (as a kid) – there is very little dialog in the second half of film, freeing the mind to listen to other sounds
  • Are today’s movies too long? He hears this a lot, but doesn’t seem to feel that way himself – if you look at the running time of the first assembly of a film and take up to 30% off, that’s like filmic Weight Watchers, and you don’t lose anything real – more than that requires bone crushing or real serious surgery, and is risky and doesn’t always work, but sometimes does — The Conversation started over twice as long as it ended up – the greatest films usually do do this
  • Are new longer versions of great films a good idea? Apocalypse Now Redux was originally going to use branching rather than being a new accepted version of the film – he is not entirely positive this kind of thing is a good idea, especially after the original cut is well known – technology keeps changing

Here’s a bad cameraphone picture of Murch on stage:
Walter Murch

I’ll give the documentary a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars, and Murch himself a 4 stars.

Seen 4/29/2007 at the Castro Theater, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.


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