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Walter Murch

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Walter Murch
Murch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 11, 2008
Born (1943-07-12) July 12, 1943 (age 81)
New York City, US
EducationJohns Hopkins University
Alma materUSC School of Cinematic Arts
  • Film editor
  • director
  • writer
  • sound designer
Years active1969–present
Aggie Murch
(m. 1965)

Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor, director, writer and sound designer. His work includes THX 1138, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, Ghost and The English Patient, with three Academy Award wins (from nine nominations: six for picture editing and three for sound mixing).[1]

For his work on Apocalypse Now, Murch was the first person to receive a credit as "Sound Designer." Murch was also the editor and re-recording mixer of Apocalypse Now Redux. In 1998, producer Rick Schmidlin chose Murch as his editor for the restoration of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil.[2] Murch is the author of a popular book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye, and is the subject of Michael Ondaatje's book The Conversations. Famed movie critic Roger Ebert called Murch "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema."[3] David Thomson calls Murch "the scholar, gentleman and superb craftsman of modern film", adding that in sound and editing, "he is now without a peer."[4]

Early life[edit]

External videos
video icon Walter Murch, Film-maker, Web of Stories, March 1, 2017[5]

Murch was born in New York City, New York, the son of Katharine (née Scott) and Canadian-born painter Walter Tandy Murch (1907–1967).[6] He is the grandson of Louise Tandy Murch, a music teacher who was the subject of the 1975 documentary film At 99: A Portrait of Louise Tandy Murch and of Mary Elizabeth MacCallum Scott, a Canadian physician, educator and Christian medical missionary, who with her husband Thomas Beckett Scott MD, established the Green Memorial Hospital in Manipay, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).

As a boy, he began to experiment with sound recording, taping unusual sounds and layering them into new combinations.[7] He attended The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961. In the summer of 1961 he worked as a music librarian and production assistant at Riverside Church's newly founded radio station WRVR, now WLTW. He assisted with the July 29th 1961 live broadcast of a 12-hour folk music Hootenanny produced by Izzy Young.[8] This featured, among many other acts, the first radio performance of the 20-year-old Bob Dylan.[9] Murch then attended Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965, graduating Phi Beta Kappa[10] in Liberal Arts. Murch spent the university school year 1963–1964 in Europe, studying Romance Languages and the History of Art in Italy at Perugia and in France at the Sorbonne.

While at Johns Hopkins, he met future director/screenwriter Matthew Robbins, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and philosopher Andrew Feenberg, with whom he staged a number of happenings.[11] In 1965, Murch and Robbins enrolled in the graduate program of the University of Southern California's film school, encouraging Deschanel to follow them. There all three encountered, and became friends with, fellow students such as George Lucas, Hal Barwood, Robert Dalva, Willard Huyck, Don Glut and John Milius; all of these men would go on to be successful filmmakers. Not long after film school, in 1969, Murch and others joined Francis Ford Coppola and Lucas at American Zoetrope in San Francisco. Murch and his family settled in Bolinas, California, in 1972.[7][12][13]


Murch started editing and mixing sound with Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People (1969). Subsequently, he worked on George Lucas's THX 1138 and American Graffiti and Coppola's The Godfather before editing picture and mixing sound on Coppola's The Conversation, for which he received an Academy Award nomination in sound in 1974.[14] Murch also mixed the sound for Coppola's The Godfather Part II which was released in 1974, the same year as The Conversation. He did sound design work on Apocalypse Now, for which he won his first Academy Award in 1979[15] and he was also significantly involved in the re-editing work that resulted in the extended Apocalypse Now Redux in 2001.

In 1985 he directed his only feature film, Return to Oz, which he co-wrote with Gill Dennis. After the film failed at the box office and displeased many critics with its dark tone and themes, he never directed another film.

In 1988 Murch was one of the editors on The Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Philip Kaufman.[16][17]

Murch edits in a standing position, comparing the process of film editing to "conducting, brain surgery and short-order cooking" since all conductors, cooks, and surgeons stand when they work. In contrast, when writing, he does so lying down. His reason for this is that where editing film is an editorial process, the creative process of writing is opposite that, and so he lies down rather than sit or stand up, to separate his editing mind from his creating mind.[18]

Murch has written one book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (1995),[19] which has been translated into many languages including Chinese, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, French, German, Hungarian and Persian. His book describes many of his notable techniques used in his film editing. One of his most praised techniques he refers to as "the rule of six" referring to the 6 criteria in a film that he examines when making a cut. In his book, Murch also describes editing as more of a psychological practice with a goal of anticipating and controlling the thoughts of the audience.

Before this, he wrote the foreword to Michel Chion's Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994).[20] He was also the subject of Michael Ondaatje's book The Conversations (2002),[21] which consists of several conversations between Ondaatje and Murch; the book emerged from Murch's editing of The English Patient, which was based on Ondaatje's novel of the same name.

In 2007 the documentary Murch premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which centered on Murch and his thoughts on filmmaking.[22]

In 2012, Murch's translations of short stories by the Italian writer Curzio Malaparte were published as The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage.[23]

Innovations and awards[edit]

While he was editing directly on film, Murch took notice of the crude splicing used for the daily rough-cuts. In response, he invented a modification which concealed the splice by using extremely narrow but strongly adhesive strips of special polyester-silicone tape. He called his invention "N-vis-o".

In 1979, he won an Oscar for the sound mix of Apocalypse Now as well as a nomination for picture editing. The movie was among the first stereo films to be mixed using an automated console. Additionally, the film is the first to credit anyone as Sound Designer, a professional designation that Murch is widely attributed to have coined as a means to help legitimize the field of post-production sound, much in the way William Cameron Menzies coined the term "Production Designer" in the 1930s.[24]

Apocalypse Now was also notable for being the second film released in a Dolby sound system that has come to be known as 5.1, with three screen speaker channels, low-frequency enhancement, and two surround channels (one more channel than standard surround sound arrangements at the time).[25] The movie was initially seen and heard in this 70mm six-track format in only 17 theaters, some of which also featured prototypes of the Model 650 subwoofer developed by John and Helen Meyer.[26] In recent years, Murch has asserted that the Meyer Sound subwoofers were more "emotionally significant" to the film's presentations than were the two surround channels.[27]

In 1996, Murch worked on Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, which was based on Michael Ondaatje's novel of the same name. Murch won Oscars both for his sound mixing and for his editing.[28] Murch's editing Oscar was the first to be awarded for an electronically edited film (using the Avid system), and he is the only person ever to win Oscars for both sound mixing and film editing.[29]

In 2003, Murch edited another Anthony Minghella film, Cold Mountain on Apple's sub-$1000 Final Cut Pro software using off the shelf Power Mac G4 computers. This was a leap for such a big-budget film, where expensive Avid systems were usually the standard non-linear editing system. He received an Academy Award nomination for this work; his efforts on the film were documented in Charles Koppelman's 2004 book Behind the Seen.[30]

In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.[31]

In 2009, Murch's work was the subject of a tribute, "The Art of Walter Murch," a program in "The Professionals," a series by the California Film Institute at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.[12]

In 2012, Murch was invited to serve as a mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, an international philanthropic program that pairs masters in their disciplines with emerging talents for a year of one-to-one creative exchange. Out of a gifted field of candidates, Murch chose Italian film editor Sara Fgaier as his protégée. Previous film mentors for the initiative include Mira Nair (2004), Stephen Frears (2006), Martin Scorsese (2008) and Zhang Yimou (2010).[32]

Murch is the 2012 recipient of the Nikola Tesla Award given by the International Press Academy Satellite Awards for "Visionary Achievement in Filmmaking Technology".[33] Previous recipients have included Douglas Trumbull, James Cameron, Roger Deakins, Dennis Muren and George Lucas.

In 2015, Murch was presented with the Vision Award Nescens, at the 68th Locarno Film Festival, for his contributions to cinema. The two previous recipients of the award, initiated in 2013, were Douglas Trumbull and Garrett Brown.[34] In 2016, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of media by the Southampton Solent University in Southampton, England along with Anne Coates who received an honorary Doctorate of Arts.[35]

In 2018, Murch was awarded an honorary doctorate of arts by the University of Hertfordshire, for his contribution to the film industry in the county of Hertfordshire[36] and his contribution towards The Elstree Project and the Film and Television Production degrees. There is a dedicated post-production lab on the Hertfordshire campus named for Murch which opened in 2015.[37][38]

He is the only film editor to have received Academy Award nominations for films edited on four different systems:[39]

Murch is also Honorary Associate of London Film School.

Personal life[edit]

Murch married Muriel Ann "Aggie" Slater at Riverside Church, New York City on August 6, 1965. Directly after marrying, the couple took a motorcycle trip across the United States. They have four children and have lived in Bolinas, California since 1972.[13][30]


Feature films[edit]

Year Title Editor Sound Writer Director Notes
1969 The Rain People No Yes No No Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1971 THX-1138 No Yes Yes No Co-wrote the screenplay with George Lucas. Also credited with Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1972 The Godfather No Yes No No Post-production consultant.[40] Murch was the sound effects supervisor on "The Godfather", but he was not in the LA union at the time, so his credit on the film does not reflect his actual job.
1973 American Graffiti No Yes No No Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1974 The Conversation Yes Yes No No Nominated – Academy Award for Best Sound with Art Rochester.
Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1974 The Godfather Part II No Yes No No Sound Montage and Re-recording.
1977 Julia Yes No No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing.
Co-edited with Marcel Durham
1979 Apocalypse Now Yes Yes No No Academy Award for Best Sound with Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nat Boxer.
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing with Gerald B. Greenberg, Lisa Fruchtman and Richard Marks
1985 Return to Oz No No Yes Yes Co-wrote with Gill Dennis
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Yes No No No
1990 Ghost Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing
The Godfather Part III Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing with Barry Malkin and Lisa Fruchtman
1993 House of Cards Yes No No No
Romeo Is Bleeding Yes Yes No No
1994 I Love Trouble Yes No No No
1995 First Knight Yes Yes No No
1996 The English Patient Yes Yes No No Academy Award for Best Film Editing
Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing with Mark Berger, David Parker, and Christopher Newman
1999 The Talented Mr. Ripley Yes Yes No No
2002 K-19: The Widowmaker Yes Yes No No
2003 Cold Mountain Yes Yes No No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Film Editing
2005 Jarhead Yes Yes No No
2007 Youth Without Youth Yes Yes No No
2009 Tetro Yes Yes No No
2010 The Wolfman Yes No No No Co-edited with Dennis Virkler and Mark Goldblatt
2013 Particle Fever Yes Yes No No Feature documentary on the search for the Higgs Boson
2015 Tomorrowland Yes No No No Co-edited with Craig Wood
2019 Coup 53 Yes No Yes No Murch is credited as editor and co-author of this feature-length documentary on Iran.
2024 Her Name Was Moviola No No Yes No Murch also stars in this documentary about Moviola film editing.[41]

Restorations and Re-edits[edit]

Year Title Editor Sound Writer Director Notes
1998 Touch of Evil Yes Yes No No Originally released in 1958. Murch's restoration and re-edit was completed in 1998 for the film's forty-year anniversary re-release.
2000 The Dickson Experimental Sound Film Yes Yes No No Originally released in 1894, Murch's restoration was completed in 2000. One of several attempts to marry the archival film's sound and picture. It was later shown to be incomplete and has since been re-synchronized by professional motion picture archivists.[42]
2001 Apocalypse Now Redux Yes Yes No No A re-edited version of Coppola's 1979 film with 49 minutes of deleted sequences added back into the film.


Year Title Director Editor Notes
2011 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Yes No Episode "The General" of Lucasfilm animated series
2012 Hemingway & Gellhorn No Yes HBO Television movie, Phil Kaufman, director


  1. ^ "Walter Murch Articles". filmsound.org.
  2. ^ Axmaker, Sean (2008-10-07). ""A tremendous piece of filmmaking" - Walter Murch on "Touch of Evil"". Parallax View. Retrieved 2023-02-05.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Why 3D Doesn't work and never will. Case closed".
  4. ^ Thomson, David (2010). The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (Fifth ed.). p. 689.
  5. ^ "Walter Murch, Film-maker". Web of Stories. March 1, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.320 short segments, with transcripts
  6. ^ "Walter Murch Biography (1943–)". Filmreference.Com. 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Jeanne. "Stories in the Dark". Arts & Sciences. Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  8. ^ "Bob Dylan, 1961 - Radio Broadcasts (Including the first time Bob was broadcast on the radio)". YouTube. 12 March 2021.
  9. ^ Shelton, Robert (July 29, 1961). "Folk Music Heard on 12-Hour Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-03.
  10. ^ Pete Rosenbery, "Film industry pioneer to receive honorary degree", Southern Illinois University Carbondale, January 17, 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  11. ^ "A Happening". www.sfu.ca.
  12. ^ a b Liberatore, Paul (November 11, 2009). "Tribute showcases pioneering work in films of Bolinas' Murch". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  13. ^ a b Walter and Aggie Murch (November 25, 2012). The Bird that Swallowed its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. The New School at Commonweal. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  14. ^ "The 47th Academy Awards (1975) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  15. ^ "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
  16. ^ https://archive.org/details/WalterMurch7111990sideOneOfTwo [dead link]
  17. ^ https://archive.org/details/WalterMurch7111990sideTwoOfTwoEdited [dead link]
  18. ^ "The Author and the Film Editor: Ondaatje interviews Murch". www.webdelsol.com.
  19. ^ Chion, Michel (1994). Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231078-99-4.
  20. ^ Ondaatje, Michael (2004). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing (New York: Random House).
  21. ^ Ichioka, Edie and Ichioka, David (2007). Walter Murch on Editing. Webpage retrieved December 24, 2007.
  22. ^ Malaparte, Curzio; Weschler, Lawrence (2012). The Bird That Swallowed Its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. Walter Murch (translation). Counterpoint Press. ISBN 9781619020610.
  23. ^ Caldwell, John Thornton (2008). Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television (Duke University Press). ISBN 0822341115
  24. ^ "Dean of Dolby: Audio pioneer Ioan Allen looks back on five decades of innovation | Film Journal International". www.filmjournal.com. Archived from the original on 2017-01-12.
  25. ^ "Apocalypse Now Final Cut: With Sensual Sound, Coppola's Wartime Vision is Fully Realized". Boxoffice. August 15, 2019.
  26. ^ Larry Blake's personal correspondence with Walter Murch, July 14, 2016
  27. ^ "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  28. ^ Wise, Damon (November 17, 2015). "Camerimage: Walter Murch on Editing, Cinematography and the Change to Digital".
  29. ^ a b Koppelman, Charles (2004). Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema (New Riders Press) ISBN 978-0-7357-1426-7.
  30. ^ "Murch's speech at ECIAD" (PDF).
  31. ^ "Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative". rolex.org.
  32. ^ "Tesla Award | International Press Academy".
  33. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (February 4, 2015). "Walter Murch To Be Honored By Locarno Film Festival With Vision Award".
  34. ^ http://official.blog.solent.ac.uk/press-releases/oscar-winning-editor-awarded-honorary-degree/
  35. ^ Suslak, Anne (September 4, 2018). "University of Hertfordshire students celebrate graduation". Herts Advertiser.
  36. ^ Lewis, Alex (December 23, 2015). "Harry Potter director and Godfather technician visit Hatfield's University of Hertfordshire". Welwyn Hatfield Times.
  37. ^ "Film and TV facilities". www.herts.ac.uk.
  38. ^ "Walter Murch interviews Anne V. Coates". filmsound.org.
  39. ^ "The Godfather (1972)". IMDb. 24 March 1972.
  40. ^ https://moviolathemovie.com
  41. ^ Kalinak, Kathryn (June 21, 2019). "The Dickson Experimental Sound Film, Popular Music, and the Invention of Moving Pictures". Film History: An International Journal. 31 (4): 61–91. doi:10.2979/filmhistory.31.4.03. S2CID 213602665 – via Project MUSE.

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