in the blink of an eye: walter murch’s profound concept on film editing

In his book In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch, editor of Francis Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy, revealed many techniques he’s employed throughout his career of picture editing and sound recording. He explained that prior to editing his first picture, The Conversation in 1974, he developed the habit of editing while standing due to being accustomed to the Moviola. Once the transition went on the KEM (Keller-Elektro-Mechanik), a flatbed editing machine invented in Germany in the 1930s, which forced him to sit down, suggesting that it altered his work proficiency. “Editing is like surgery – have you ever seen a surgeon sitting to perform an operation? Editing is like cooking – and no one sits down at the stove to cook.” Walter Murch said, in his book, In the Blink of an Eye. “But, most of all, editing is like a dance – the finished film is like a crystallized dance. And when have you ever seen a dancer sitting down to dance?” These analogies a relevant to the electronic editing methods of the contemporary era of post-production where digital editing occurs on desktop and laptop computers using software programs like Final Cut Pro and/or the Avid.

It’s interesting to note that contrary to most films made by Francis Coppola, The Conversation was not test screened before an audience for feedback. Coppola and Murch spent several months on this project and didn’t get the small percentage of input from a wide audience to make changes of improvement to the film. Walter Murch goes onto explain that he noticed that every time he went to make a cut, he would do it just as Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) was about to blink. “I believe this is what I was finding with Hackman’s performance in The Conversaton – he had assumed the character of Harry Caul, and was thinking a series of Harry’s thoughts the way harry would think them, and, therefore, was blinking in rhythm with those thoughts. And since I was absorbing the rhythm’s he was giving me and trying to think similar thoughts myself, my cut points were naturally aligning themselves with his blink points.” He goes on to explain that the average rate of blinking for humans in daily life is somewhere under forty blinks per minute, which is a wide range. But he believes that in editing, the blinks of actors eyes should be used as guidance for the editor to track the thoughts the character is having while considering what the audience is thinking, and how much the audience is blinking, and making cuts based upon those conjectures, to emulate an imaginative dream state experience on-screen. “I believe ‘filmic’ juxtapositions are taking place in the real world not only when we dream but also when we are awake.” Walter Murch was nominated for Best Sound Mixing at the Academy Awards for The Conversation in 1975.

Francis Coppola has collaborated with Walter Murch on The Godfather Trilogy, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. Three out of their five films are ranked on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 American Films of all time. “Nothing is as fascinating as spending hours listening to Walter’s theories of life and cinema and his countless tidbits of wisdom, which he leaves behind him like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of bread: guidance and nourishment.” Said Coppola. George Lucas, the celebrated mastermind behind the Star Wars Saga, worked with Walter Murch on his picture, American Graffiti (1973). “Walter Murch’s depth of insight into this subject is astonishing, and the book is a must for anyone who is interested in truly understanding the filmmaking process.” Said Lucas, of the honored editor and sound designer, who holds the profound theory that most people’s thoughts are in line with their blinking and if one can calculate the rate of a viewers blinks, they can get the audience to be in rhythm with the characters and story of a film.

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