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Y    O     U    T     H    conversations_murch.jpg

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Y    O     U    T     H

December 14, 2007

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com

The "out" in "without" above is deliberately left out in the title to illustrate the task that has fallen to one of the most accomplished editors in the world: editing Francis Ford Coppola's new film "Youth Without Youth", which opened today in San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles, expanding on December 21 to other U.S. cities.

Walter Murch has edited and sound recorded Mr. Coppola's films "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II", as well as "Apocalypse Now" and "Apocalypse Now Redux", and arguably met one of the most significant editing challenges with "Youth Without Youth", because of the film's reel length (which will be mentioned later.)  Just over a week ago, on the day of the film's New York City premiere on December 5, Mr. Murch spoke via telephone about the editing process of "Youth Without Youth".  "I think it was finding what we hoped was the correct balance between the different kind of moods or genres that the film it goes into.  Although it's made in the 21st century, it also harkens back to the period ... of the '30's and '40's.  Francis was influenced as a filmmaker by the films of Michael Korda . . . "The Red Shoes", and that kind of mixture of fantasy and reality that obviously in this film ties to the dislocation between, 'is this really happening or is this something that I'm dreaming or imagining?'," Mr. Murch said.

"Youth Without Youth" is a challenging film, an experience that can be immersive or perhaps disengaging.  The film could be all of those things together, representing the dissembling of a man whose last light before death -- the light that is said to be the brightest and most joyful one -- is possibly flickering in its last days.  Mr. Murch admitted that the film's story as a existential is-this-happening-or-not? journey "can get overly confusing", and in the editing room the award-winning editor, known for standing up while editing and lying down when writing, as well as for creating landmark features and processes in film and editing, said that the goal was "to try to, as much as possible edit the story to keep those things clear and under control." 

Control may have been a daunting task with "Youth", for Mr. Murch mentioned the length of the film in feet in response to a question posed to him.  As an editor working alone he had never edited as much footage as he had with "Youth Without Youth", which was shot digitally.  "If ["Youth"] were shot in 35mm it would have been 900,000 feet, and to put that in perspective, "Apocalypse Now" was 1,250,000 feet -- but on that film there were three editors working simultaneously.  On the other hand, we didn't have electronic editing equipment . . . "  Moviegoers will see "Youth Without Youth" as a journey that for screen time is two hours and four minutes.  For Mr. Murch, the experience as an editor with the film's footage was of course a lot longer.  "It took me about six weeks to look at all the footage.  I was still working on "Jarhead" (Sam Mendes' film of 2005) when Francis was making this movie, when he was shooting, so I actually came on the film after everything was shot.  So I simply came down at looked at all the dailies as if the film was being shot and the sun was coming in, and that took about six weeks.  And then I think it took about two and a half months to get everything together to show Francis, including the time spent looking at the material."  It was the goal of Mr. Coppola, the editor said, to get the film' running time within the neighborhood of two hours.  "I think the first assembly (of the film) came in somewhere of about three hours and 15 minutes, so we had to find roughly an hour and a half to cut out of the movie."

Walter Murch said that he read Mircea Eliade's novella to get more texture and flavor for the editing that he typically employs on his editing assignments, adding that "if I can talk to the author and inquire about what research materials he used in order to write the novel, and I'll try to read those.  So I try to saturate myself as much as possible in the source material.  Having said that, once I'm saturated and I'm actually editing a film, then I'm just dealing with the film itself.  I'm rarely even refer to the script.  I've absorbed so much of it and I know it so well that I rarely have to go back and say, 'well, what did the script say here?', I'm just responding to the shot material, kind of in the way that a documentary film editor would -- 'you know, here's the material, let's see what the best story we can tell with the material is.'"

The 64-year-old editor, who said that he didn't plan on going back to directing (he had directed once in his illustrious career, a 1985 film called "Return To Oz"), said of his relationship with Mr. Coppola, who he described as his close friend, that in the land of results-oriented directors and process-oriented directors, "Francis is a process-oriented director.  He has a deep themes in mind, and he knows the moment that he wants . . . but in terms of how it's going to play out, that's something that he wants to discover in the process of making the movie.  He doesn't really want to start  a movie knowing exactly how it would turn out.  And that's very congenial to me.  I love making discoveries of things and I think what goes along with that is that . . . delegates a lot of responsibility to not only the editors but all the heads of departments -- production designers, costumes, the cinematography -- all of that is which Francis is very collaborative (with).  If someone comes up with an interesting idea, he's very willing to pursue that idea.  At the same time he's very aware of when it isn't working and he will cut that off.  But there's a real deliberation effect that happens when you're working on a film . . . and you're all walking forward making discoveries along the way."  Mr. Murch mentions the results-oriented approach, one he cited that "No Country For Old Men" directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen take.  "It's perfectly good . . . the Coen Brothers work that way.  They storyboard almost everything and are very definite about what they want, and which camera angle they want this actor to say this line on."

Walter Murch has won three Academy Awards for his editing and sound mixing and recording, and he is one of those who has pioneered the cinema editing industry with his significant contributions.  He has an astonishing amount of knowledge, and one can gain a lot more of it by watching "Murch", a fascinating documentary about the New York-born editor, as he discusses editing and its effects on a film.  "Murch" premiered earlier this year at the San Francisco International Film Festival.  Right now however, Mr. Murch's handiwork can be seen on the big screen in Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth", and one can tell that his love for editing and making images magically float in and out of view and creating a mood is very strong.
 

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