Awards: “The Conversation”, 1974 British Academy (BAFTA) Film Awards for Best Film Editing and Best

Sound; “Apocalypse Now”, 1979 Academy Award for Best Sound; Lifetime Achievement Award, Cinema Audio Society, 1994; “The English Patient”, 1996 Academy Award for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, American Cinema Editors Eddie Award for Best Edited Feature Film, BAFTA Film Award for Best Editing; Maverick Tribute Award, Cinequest San Jose Film Festival, 1998; Selected Films as Supervising Sound Editor/Re-recording Engineer: The Godfather American Graffiti The Godfather, Part II Apocalypse Now (+ ed) The Godfather, Part III (+ ed) Selected Films as Editor: The Conversation The Unbearable Lightness of Being The English Patient The Talented Mr. Ripley Cold Mountain Murch expresses this traditional view when he says: "Out of the juxtaposition of what the sound is telling you and what the picture is telling you, you (the audience) come up with a third idea which is composed of both picture and sound and resolves their superficial differences." Murch's work on Coppola's The Conversation is both exemplary and instructive in this regard. The film concerns the morally dubious activities of a professional eavesdropper, a technician who is the film's self-reflexive image of its own preoccupations with the sound mix. Murch's effects are complicated here and take full advantage of the fact that sound, unlike image, can be "located" both within the story world and outside it, in the realm of narrative comment. The film's initial bravura sequence, justly celebrated, features a gradual zoom in to a crowded city park where the actions and conversation of a "target" couple are to be recorded. While the camera has no trouble providing a more or less unproblematic series of images, the sound track is filled with audio bleeps, distorting noises, gaps, and inadequate levels. The spectator is disoriented by the montage of clear image track and unclear sound, but this disorientation is soon revealed as "motivated," that is, we are seeing and hearing with the surveillers. Both image and sound are provided by diegetic narrators, and the limitations of both are reproduced by the film's narrator. The subsequent editing of the recorded conversation is depicted and eventually leads to the revelation that the eavesdropper has been used by his employers as part of a

murder scheme. The sound images of this conversation (and occasionally the visual ones as well) also figure subjectively in the film, as part of the main character's consciousness and memory. Though the film has nondiegetic music (mainly a simple piano melody which plays expressively, in the traditional way, over certain diegetic sound silent sequences), it has no music director. Murch is responsible, as sound designer, for the integration of music and sound. In fact, nondiegetic noise often performs the traditional function of musical phrases. As the eavesdropper examines the motel toilt which, he thinks, may reveal the traces of the murder for which he is partly responsible, we hear, louder than normal, the sound of the toilet valve on the sound track. Gradually, this diegetic sound is merged with audio bleeps reminding us of the recorded conversation, and this sound in turn is transformed into a very loud and grating nondiegetic synthesized noise (which resembles very squeaky train brakes). Though nondiegetic, this sound expresses the horror and becomes the narrational correlative of the eavesdropper's discovery: as he flushes the toilet, it spills over with blood and bandages, revealing his fears to be justified. Murch here appears to be developing further the use of "shrieking violins" in Psycho . He also anticipates much contemporary sound design where the distinction between music ("organized noise") and other expressive nondiegetic sounds has been problematized.

Apocalypse Now offered Murch a different kind of challenge: not creating an alternate reality, but forging a hyperreality, an intersection between a dense world of aural experience and the subjectivity of those trapped within it. The most notable and typical sound image in this film is thus the aural equivalent of a fade out/fade in. As he lies in a Saigon hotel room in a drunken, drugged stupor, the film's protagonist dreams of a nightmare jungle, engulfed by flames, traversed by ghostly helicopters, their rotors beating a surreal, otherworldly "whoosh." He wakes and the whoosh "bleeds" into the whirr of the overhead fan. This is indeed an effect aptly termed a montage, and it demonstrates the incredible talent of Murch and the importance of his contributions to the art cinema of the Hollywood Renaissance. The Godfather, Part III , with its epic sweep and several complex sequences, challenged his sound editing and rerecording skills, as did Ghost , with its need for

otherworldly visual and sound images; the success of both films is to be credited in part to Murch's abilities. Even Murch's artistry could not save the dismal production of First Knight from failure; yet it is undeniable that his effects create the proper aural ambience for an Arthurian fantasy. The neo-noirness of Romeo Is Bleeding unfortunately did not offer Murch a chance to recreate his stunning effects from The Conversation ; even Murch's considerable skills as an editor were not up to the task of rescuing director Medak's confusingly told story from tedium and, frequently, inconsequence. Murch was more successful in editing The Unbearable Lightness of Being , based on the complex and often obscure Milan Kundera novel; here Murch is able to articulate the intimate connection between erotic and political events through judicious cutting, though he proved unable to reduce the film to a manageable commercial length (it runs almost three hours). Murch's most notable recent project, editing the film adaptation of surrealistic Michael Ondratjie novel The English Patient , offered Murch even better opportunities to create meaning through the editing process, a task whose joys and discontents are experienced by his closest fictional reflex, the harried private detective and sound engineer of The Conversation . The novel's confusingly implausible, even absurd plot was expertly trimmed by scenarist/director Anthony Minghella, yielding a still complex story of bizarrely intertwined fates; Murch's contribution was to make sure the plot's intricately connected segments of present action and flashback made sense and did not appear to be simply disconcerting fragments. Despite the considerable challenge, Murch was extremely successful, making the most of Mighella's fine direction of a talented cast and John Seale's lushly poetic cinematography.

“The Conversaion” – Production notes (from Wikipedia) On the DVD commentary, Coppola says he was shocked to learn that the film utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal. Coppola has said this is the reason the film gained part of the recognition it has received, but that this is entirely coincidental. Not only was the script for The Conversation completed in the mid-1960s (before the Nixon Administration came to power) but that the spying equipment used in the film was discovered through research and the use of technical advisers and not, as many believed, by revelatory newspaper stories about the Watergate break-in. Coppola also noted that filming of The Conversation had been completed several months before the most revelatory Watergate stories broke in the press. Since the film wasn't released to theaters until several months after Richard Nixon had resigned, Coppola feels that audiences interpreted the film to be a reaction to both the Watergate scandal and its fall-out. The original cinematographer of The Conversation was Haskell Wexler. Severe creative and personal differences with Coppola led to Wexler's firing shortly after production began and Coppola replaced him with Bill Butler. Wexler's footage on The Conversation was completely reshot, except for the technically complex surveillance scene in Union Square.[4] This would be the first of two Oscar-nominated films where Wexler would be fired and replaced by Butler, the second being One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), where Wexler had similar problems with Milos Forman.

Walter Murch served as the supervising editor and sound designer. Murch had more or less a free hand during the editing process, since Coppola was already working on The Godfather Part II at the time.[5]. Coppola noted in the DVD commentary that Hackman had a very difficult time adapting to the Harry Caul character because it was so much unlike himself. Coppola says that Hackman was at the time an outgoing and approachable person who preferred casual clothes, whereas Caul was meant to be a socially awkward loner who wore a rain coat and out-of-style glasses. Coppola said that Hackman's efforts to tap into the character made the actor moody and irritable on-set but otherwise Coppola got along well with his leading man. Coppola also notes on the commentary that Hackman considers this one of his favorite performances. From “The First Conversation” – by Michael Ondaatje: MICHAEL ONDAATJE: What's the distinction of roles between editor and director -- in the way a scene is finally cut or the way a plot is possibly altered from a script? We know the editor has a very intimate relationship to the material. Does this give him or her a finer sense than the director of subliminal details and hidden structures in the film? WALTER MURCH: I don't think an editor -- except in certain kinds of documentaries -can impose on a film a vision that wasn't there to begin with. All the things you talk about were in Francis' head, in some form. I may have found things that worked along with his vision in a unique way, orchestrated it more fully in certain areas perhaps, but I doubt whether that would have happened had Francis not already written the melody, so to speak. I become tuned to see things in a certain way when I'm working on a film. One of your obligations as an editor is to drench yourself in the sensibility of the film, to the point where you're alive to the smallest details and also the most important themes. This also applies to the head of every department. It's very similar, I'm sure, to how a conductor relates to the performers in an orchestra.

From “Sound Doctrine: An Interview with Walter Murch”: In short, Murch stands as an important figure in cinema because he and a handful of peers realized possibilities offered by multi-track recording. (Or in materialist terms, the development of multi-track recording technology significantly broadened options available during postproduction, creating a niche for Murch and his peers to fill. It was, thus, crucial to the outpouring of independent films in the late '60s and '70s.) For while the possibilities of editing and mixing sounds had been glimpsed early on— long before the arrival of the talkies—they remained largely inaudible until magnetic tape emerged as an economically viable and practical recording medium. Tape made sound malleable, much like celluloid made visual images malleable. And that exposes an anomaly. If we want to understand the history of edited images we start by looking to the films of Eisenstein, Vertov, and Pudovkin. To understand the history of edited sound, we do well to listen to Murch's work with Lucas and Coppola. Q: On Apocalypse Now you and others had to edit an enormous amount of film. Was there a comparable surfeit of audio tape? A: No. At the time of shooting almost no usable sound was recorded for the film because of the difficulties of production. We had what is called a "guide track." We had to recreate the whole sonic environment, item by item, for the finished film, including almost all the dialogue. Once you have the image, then that immediately begins to narrow down what you will use for sound. It’s still a huge amount, but when you have sound, you’re, thankfully, being guided by what you see in the picture. Q: How did you get the helicopter sounds in that movie? A: We got the Coast Guard to cooperate. We went up to Washington State and for three or four days recorded all kinds of different helicopters. At the beginning of the film, where we wanted a more abstract approach, we took the helicopter sound and recreated it element by element on a synthesizer. If you listen to a helicopter approach from a distance, fly overhead and, then, away, it’s got many different stages that it goes through. We took each of those stages and said, "Alright, here we’ll hear only the flap of the blade. We don’t hear any motor. Let’s do a flap." So we fooled around on the synthesizer until there was a flap that we felt was suitably abstract but helicopter-ish enough. And then the other elements, the turbine whine, the whoosh of the thing through the air, and all of those different aspects of it. A: When we were shooting Conversation, the sound was, again, suggested by the actual environment in which Harry Caul [Gene Hackman] had his warehouse, which was really five or six blocks away from where American Zoetrope, the studio, was. There's a shot, quite early on, after the first apartment scene in which Harry talks to his landlady and plays the saxophone. He goes to work the next morning, and you see him picking his way across railroad tracks in order to get to the entrance of his warehouse. In fact, just on the other side of that warehouse is the main switching yard for freight and passenger trains coming into San Francisco from the south. So the idea was triggered by what's actually in the environment.

From “In Conversation with Walter Murch” by Kiran Ganti / KG: What is the definition and the characteristic of a transition? 1. In film terms, the smallest transition is the frame: this is the equivalent of the microsaccade that keeps vision alive, and we are unconscious of the shift as such from one frame to the next, though it is perceived by us as motion. 2. The next smallest transition is the cut between shots: this is the equivalent of a shift of attention of our eyes and we are intermittently conscious of this sometimes more sometimes less, depending on the nature of the cut. 3. And then a still bigger transition is the cut (or dissolve, or whatever) between one scene and another, and we are usually quite conscious of this. In fact it is the editors job to make sure that the audience is conscious of the transition from one scene to the next, otherwise there will be confusion. 4. Beyond that there are the major transitions between the Acts of a movie, but these are more difficult to qualify since cinema is unlike theatre: very rarely does a curtain fall in a movie! But we do occasionally get a sense of this end of act transition. For example, in The Godfather all the scene transitions up until Michael kills Solozzo and McCluskey have some action or story continuity. But after the double murder we get a somewhat abstract montage of various newspaper images, and the music changes from dramatic orchestral to tinkling piano, and it is by these means that the film is letting us know this is the end of Act I. Everything after these murders will be different. 5. Lastly there are the biggest transitions of all: the beginning and the ending of the film. The beginning is the transition from nothing to something, and the end is the transition from something back to nothing again. (In the technical sense, the film has not yet begun, and at the end, the shutter closes and the film stops. In the mind of the audience of course, this is not true. Whenever the audiences enter the theatre, they are full of thoughts and emotions. They come in with expectations about the film. (based on the star cast, the promotion, genre etc) It is upto the film to meet their expectations or not, in a sense to transport them into its own world and either meet or defy their expectations. The audience always enters the theatre full of thoughts and emotions, brimming with all of their past histories - love affairs, tragedies, disappointments, triumphs, etc. The film energizes and synthesizes these feelings, and hopefully transforms them in some way - makes them more coherent, meaningful, endurable, funny - which is one of the primary functions of dramatic art. Most films do not engage the audience, therefore either the audience get disinterested while watching the film or they forget about it the moment the screening is over. However, the few films that do engage the audience transport them into its world and the audience, collectively, experience the emotions in a coherent way. The way in which they were meant to experience the film in the first place. Whenever this experience happens, the audience carry the film with them. Depending on the impact, the film stays with them till they come out of the theatre or, in case of a great film, it remains with them for a very long time. Although this process of the film leaving the space of the screen and entering the minds/hearts of the audience is not a cinematic transition in the true sense it is, by far, the most important transition for every film. Because no matter what the filmmaker does

within the film, if the film fails to reach the audience and make an impact (either by thought or emotion) then all that the filmmaker does within the film becomes useless.) Within the shot, at the level of the transition from frame to frame, we are essentially cutting from one image to a very similar but not identical image. The mind tries to explain this slight difference, and the concept it arrives at is the idea of motion. Remember that motion does not exist on film, it exists in the mind of the perceiver as a way to explain the difference in adjacent frames. At the point of a cut from one shot to another, the audiences attention is momentarily dislocated by this new visual, even though the new shot may happen in the same three-dimensional space as the previous one. Previously, the frame to frame changes within the shot were small and incremental. Suddenly at the cut the change is much greater like a break in time code: the change isnt motion any more, what is it the audiences mind has to resolve the sudden shift of geography, position, and other things and it takes a frame or so 50 to 100 milliseconds depending on the content of the shot for the audience to adjust to the new reality. Editors can use this brief disorientation to their advantage, because it proves useful in masking technical problems we might have, such as action mismatches. To the extent that they happen mostly below the level of consciousness, cuts between shots are not strictly speaking transitions. This is why where you make the cut is crucial. If the audience is ready for a new idea, their minds will be receptive to a new shot when it occurs. And there are certain places in a shot where that readiness is more likely than others, just as there are places on a tree where branches will form and not others. If the audience is not ready, the cut will feel awkward. Depending on the size of the transition whether it is the microscopic one of the frame, the larger one of the shot, or the even larger ones of the scene or act we can expect the audience to be increasingly alert to the differences in the transition. And the more alert the audience is at those moments of transition, the greater the opportunity we have to reveal things to them. In fact the more we do this, the more it helps to sensitize the audience to the changes, so it is a chicken/egg kind of a thing. Change is essential for perception, and greater change can lead to greater perception, if handled right. KG: What are the characteristics of a transition? There is time, space and sound. How does one use them? WM: Well in transitions between scenes, mostly we are focused on time, in one way or another. How much time has elapsed between the two scenes This is usually the crucial question. Sound bridges, wherein the sound from the next scene comes in at the end of the outgoing scene, are frequently used to prepare the audience for the transition. For a few moments, as the sound from the incoming scene starts playing over the visual of the outgoing scene, there could be an element of fruitful confusion for the audience, as they would not be able to relate the sound to the visual except perhaps metaphorically. They can only fully relate to it, in a realistic sense, after they have seen the visual of the next scene. At the beginning of Apocalypse Now, when Willard is in the hotel, there are a series of multilayer dissolves from him lying on the bed, to the ceiling fan, to the helicopters flying in front of the napalmed jungle all carefully worked out to accommodate each others visual space. We hear abstract electronic sounds of the helicopters as they fly around the theatre, and slowly the sound of a real helicopter comes in to replace the electronic one. It is right about this point that Willard begins to wake from his jungle

dream back into hotel-room reality. What I was trying to do, in going from the electronic helicopter sound to the real helicopter sound, was to mimic the disorientation that frequently happens to us while we are dreaming: an alarm goes off and the sound of this bell enters our dream and we incorporate it somehow into the ongoing reality of whatever we are dreaming about. When were asleep we think the bell is from a fire engine, or something like that. But when we wake up, we realize that it is from the alarm clock next to our bed. Our perception shifts, collapses: Im still only in Saigon, as Willard says later. This shift from the abstract to the real sound of the helicopter is gradual, and we slowly begin to emerge into a real, not a dream space. Willard opens his eyes slightly disoriented, and thinks for a moment (as we think) that the helicopter sound is coming from the fan. Only when he walks to the window does he finally understand that the sound was that of a real helicopter flying over the hotel. Maybe it was that all along.

KG: When do you use optical effects? What is the function of a dissolve for you and at what point do you use them? WM: My tendency is to use dissolves when I need to convey long time transitions or to give a release to the audience if the story has become very tense. Because thats what dissolve does, it takes the tension and dissolves it. So I use them partly for structural reasons, and also for emotional reasons to let go of something. If two images are to dissolve together, they have to receive each other visually in an

interesting way. I would never dissolve merely to indicate passage of time, or to get out of an awkward cut, and particularly not if the two images do not complement each other. In the opening ten minute sequence of Apocalypse Now, there are 3-4 images being dissolved and superimposed simultaneously. This is to convey Willards hallucinatory state of mind: he is hung over and dreaming. It is also an interesting way to begin the film: at the very start you dont know it is a dream, and some of that ambiguity lingers, particularly with the Jim Morrison singing This is the end at the beginning of the film. But I do agree that dissolves have been used randomly, mostly by mediocre filmmakers, without exploring the possibilities of a cut instead. Their idea of using a dissolve could be to mask a bad cut, which makes the problem even worse because if two shots are not going to make a good cut, they would make an even uglier dissolve. My editing teacher used to say, as an admonishment: Cant solve it Dissolve it! He would give us bad marks if we tried to use dissolves without thinking about them carefully. Remember in those days the 1960s dissolves were expensive optical effects. KG: What is the difference between using diegetic sound for transitions as against non-diegetic sound? Have you ever tried combining the two? WM: In The Conversation, in the scene we talked about where Harry takes the tapes back from Martin Stet, he is alone in the elevator with Ann (Cindy Williams) and the last closeup of Harry is held for some time. Then there is a cut to the shot of the tapes rotating at high speed and we hear the sound that they are making. The sound changes instantly with the cut: from music (non-diegetic) to sound effects (diegetic). We had to do that back in 1974 because that cut was also a change between reels of film, and it is difficult to keep music going across a reel change because of the unpredictability of the changeover during projection. While I worked on the DVD of the film more than 25 years later, I didnt have this problem, so I could bring in the sound of the tapes spinning earlier, while Harry was still in the elevator. Though at that point we do not yet know what sound it is we realize only when we make the transition to the next shot with the visual of the tapes spinning. So something which looked non-diegetic in the previous shot becomes diegetic in the next shot. And we did the opposite with the music: it spilled over into the beginning of the next scene and then came to an end. But it stayed non-diegetic on both sides of the cut. You can pre-lap sound, post-lap it, dissolve it, and thats about all you can do it does seem that the choices for making a visual transition are more varied than what can be done making audio transitions. KG: Pre-lap of sound has been used a lot in The Conversation. Why was it done. Is it because of the kind of film that was being made or it helps to use sound in this way? WM: I think both. Though it is also probably a stylistic thing with me I am not even aware of using it as much as I do. Conversation certainly is a film about sound, and if you use pre-laps, it sensitises the audience to sound. KG: In The Conversation, during the dream sequence, a lot of dissolves were used. Was it a conscious decision to use dissolves to communicate this dream like state? WM: Yes. But in that particular instance, we were also trying to grapple with a technical problem. It was not meant to be a dream sequence. It was scripted and shot as reality, but we had to make it into a dream sequence for story reasons. Also, there wasnt enough real fog on the day of shooting, so Francis used artificial fog from machines, and we supplemented it later with dissolves and superimposed optical fog.

But to answer your question, I think that dissolves do have a quality that makes the images surreal, or un-real. So although we do not perceive dissolves as such in our dreams, we use them to convey a dream-like state. I dont know why that is, but it is a convention that we all accept for some reason.

The Godfather – Anatomy of a Scene:

It’s difficult to pick the best scene from the 1972 classic The Godfather—Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo’s masterpiece is filled with one iconic moment after another. But an argument can be made for the restaurant scene where young Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) kills rival gangster Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and corrupt police captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden). Today, I’ll look at this scene and talk about why I think it works in my humble opinion, specifically focusing on the use of sound and music. Here’s a quick rundown of the story up to that point: the Corleones, led by patriarch Vito (Marlon Brando), are a Mafia family. However, youngest son Michael is not a part of the family business. He is an Ivy League-educated, World War II hero and has a “legitmate” future. But after conflicts arise with rival gangsters that leads to an assassination attempt on Vito Corleone, Michael volunteers to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey during a meeting where the three are to talk about a truce. This is Michael’s first brush with the family business. He has never killed before and has now stepped forward to murder two men. This is a key moment for Michael and the film— he is willing to sacrifice everything for his family. There is no turning back after this.

In The English Patient author Michael Ondaatje’s The Conversations, his book-length interview with famed film and sound editor Walter Murch (who served as postproduction consultant on The Godfather), the two discuss Coppola’s approach to this scene and I’ll be quoting liberally from their insightful interview. The scene opens at Louis’ Restaurant, a small Italian establishment in the Bronx. Michael has been brought here by Sollozzo and McCluskey because it is a safe, public place to meet. Previously, Michael has been told that a gun will be planted in the restroom behind the toilet and at some point, he should excuse himself, go to the restroom, find the gun and “come out shooting.” As the three sit down, the tension is created by two questions—will the innocent Michael we’ve come to know really kill these two men? Will the gun really be in the restroom? Coppola makes two main choices with the sound to create the tension he wants—he chooses not to score the scene with music (the music doesn’t come in until the very end, after the murders have been committed) and he exaggerates key sound effects to heighten and reflect Michael’s emotional state. Which isn’t to say the same sort of tension can’t be created in a more traditional way. Check out this clip from Fred Zinnemann’s classic 1952 Western High Noon. Gary Cooper is the idealistic sheriff who refuses to back down from the film’s villain who is coming in on the noon train to kill him. When Cooper turns to his fellow citizens for help, he is rejected and is forced to stand alone. As the noon train is pulling into the station, the film cuts back and forth between Cooper, a clock and the other townspeople as they anxiously wait for the big confrontation. Zinnemann employs a traditional structure to create this scene—the suspenseful music that builds as the images snake toward the climax, the cutting back and forth to show the faces of the various characters as they wait for the inevitable and the ever-present clock reminding us that time is running out. It’s an incredibly tense scene that uses all these traditional elements brilliantly. But Coppola is almost taking an opposite tact to create the level of tension his scene requires. Coppola’s scene starts off very quietly. The first sound we really hear is the pop of the cork being twisted out of a wine bottle. It’s an exaggerated sound—much louder than anything else that we’d be hearing inside the restaurant, but it sets the tone of the scene—on a subconscious level, the audience is being told to listen carefully. Then, as McCluskey eats, Sollozzo and Michael start conversing in Italian, but the film provides no subtitles for their lengthy dialogue so the audience has no idea what they’re saying (unless you know Italian). Murch explained to Ondaatje why Coppola made this choice: “It is very bold, even today, to have an extended scene between two main characters in an Englishlanguage film speaking another language with no translation. As a result you’re paying much more attention to how things are said and the body language being used, and you’re perceiving things in a very different way. You’re listening to the sound of the language, not the meaning.”

The audience also already knows what this meeting is about—Michael and Sollozzo are trying to reach a truce. That’s not what matters. What’s important is Michael’s emotional and psychological state. Because the dialogue is in a foreign language and therefore “unimportant,” we can focus our full attention on Pacino’s amazing performance. Pacino has to pull off a very difficult feat here—he must convey to the audience his nervousness and doubt while simultaneously conveying to the characters in the scene that nothing is out of the ordinary. The way that Michael glances down, the way his shoulders slightly sag, the frustration in his eyes when his Italian fails him—Pacino creates a subtly physical performance that brilliantly captures the character’s state without giving anything away to the other characters. When Michael excuses himself to go to the restroom and searches for the gun, we hear the sound of a subway train pass by. We don’t see the train but because this is the Bronx, we accept it as part of the natural soundscape. So far, the only two sounds Coppola has chosen to emphasize are the popping of the wine cork and subway train. Both effects will pay off in the next scene. Michael returns to the table and sits down. Already, he has broken one of the rules he has been told to follow—to come out of the restroom shooting. But instead, he sits and we wonder if he’s really going to go through with it. As Sollozzo once again speaks in unsubtitled Italian, the camera stays on Michael and slowly tracks in on him. It’s a repeat of a camera move we saw a couple of scenes earlier when Michael first proposes that he should be the one to kill these two men. In both instances, it’s as if the camera is moving in closer and trying to peer into this man’s soul—who is he really? Is he really the man we thought he was? As Sollozzo talks, once again we hear the sound of the train passing outside. The sound is very loud–almost drowning out everything else in the room (The scene from High Noon referenced above also climaxes with the sounds of an unrealistically loud train). Murch explained this choice: “It’s metaphorical, in that…the sound of the train is played so abnormally loud that it doesn’t match what we’re looking at, objectively. For a sound that loud, the camera should be lying on train tracks.” That’s when Michael leaps to his feet and shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey—the pop of the gunshots recalling the pop of the earlier wine cork; almost suggesting the fate of these two men were decided at the moment they first sat in their seats.

The two men are dead. Michael freezes. He doesn’t know what to do next. Previously, he was instructed to drop the gun and casually walk out. There is a moment of tension when we are again unsure if he will go through with this. But he finally makes for the door and throws the gun away. That’s when the operatic music starts. Murch explains why the music doesn’t come in until the very end of the scene: “It’s a classic example for me of the correct use of music, which is as a collector and channeler of previously created emotion, rather than the device that creates that emotion. Music in The Godfather is almost always used this way…Most movies use music the way athletes use steroids. There’s no question you can induce a certain emotion with music—just like steroids build up a muscle. It gives you an edge, it gives you speed, but it’s unhealthy for the organism in the long run.” The other function the operatic music performs by coming in after Michael has committed the killings is that it comments on Michael himself. The music is telling us that this idealistic young man has now, out of his own free will, sacrificed his own innocence. Yes, he’s done this because he thinks it’s what will save his family, but as we will soon learn, he has taken the first step in ultimately destroying his family.

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