January 17, 2008

Film industry pioneer to receive honorary degree

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor Academy Award-winning and internationally acclaimed film editor and sound designer Walter Murch with an honorary Degree of Fine Arts during the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts commencement ceremony in May.

The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees approved the honor today (Jan. 17) during its meeting in Edwardsville. Spring 2008 commencement ceremonies for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts are on May 10.

The Board of Trustees recommendation notes that Murch is the only person in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences history to receive an Oscar for both film editing and best sound (design) in the same year, 1997, for "The English Patient." He also shared an Oscar in 1980 for best sound (design) for "Apocalypse Now."

In a nomination letter for the honorary degree, SIUC Cinema & Photography associate professors Lilly Ann Boruskowski and R. William Rowley, and assistant professor Cade Bursell, wrote that Murch's contributions as a "storyteller in the art of filmmaking … are not limited to film editing and sound design." Murch is also an innovator, risk-taker, educator, artist, craftsman, writer, philosopher and thinker, they wrote.

"The diversity and range of his filmmaking practice, from editing to sound design to directing, sets him apart in the professional world of filmmaking where craft boundaries tend to be strictly adhered to, and where the approach tends to be traditional and hierarchical," the letter states.

The nomination letter states that Murch, 64, is "a pioneer in the design and use of new filmmaking tools (including digital editing)." Murch's work covers more than 56 films over more than 30 years of filmmaking, and he is recognized as one of the "universally acknowledged masters" as an editor and sound designer.

Murch has influenced audiences for decades through his work, said interim Mass Communication and Media Arts Dean Gary P. Kolb in a nomination letter.

"Arguably, over the past 100 years, no other medium has had the impact on popular culture that film has wrought," Kolb wrote. "Hundreds of millions of people each year around the globe view films that entertain, challenge, and educate them about the world in which they live. At its best, film raises our consciousness of our own humanity, our relationships to others, and our place in the world around us. Film teaches us about history, challenges our conceptions about our contemporary world, and postulates potential futures."

Murch attended The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961, and Johns Hopkins University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in liberal arts in 1965. His introduction to filmmaking came as a student at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

He worked with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas in launching American Zoetrope Studios in 1969; the studio was an early adapter of digital filmmaking and pioneered the earliest uses of HDTV, according to the nomination letter. Murch's work also includes editing sound for 1973's "American Graffiti," and 1974's "The Godfather Part II," and "The Conversation," for which he earned his first Oscar nomination for sound design in 1975.

Murch earned Academy Award nominations for his editing of "Cold Mountain," "Ghost," "The Godfather Part III," and "Julia." In 1997, Murch received the Eddie for Best Edited Feature Film from the American Cinema Editors for "The English Patient." He has received four other Eddie nominations for editing.

He is the author of the 1995 text on film editing, "In the Blink of an Eye, " which Kolb notes is a "best-selling classic in its field … utilized by thousands of cinema students every semester in film programs across the country."

Murch is also the focus of two books, "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film," by Michael Ondaatje, and "Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What this Means for Cinema," by Charles Koppelman.