This week, Neil Calloway looks at why so many great films were cut by women…
You may not have noticed in among all news reports about Jackie Chan being awarded one, but last week Anne V. Coates was given an Honorary Oscar. You might not know her name, but you certainly know her work.
Coates has worked as a film editor since the 1950s, cutting everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Fifty Shades of Grey (one of them is about a guy who keep his love for flagellation secret, and the other is Fifty Shades of Grey). She’s had a remarkable career, and though she’s one of only a small number of female editors, they all seem to be among the best in the business.
Last year, one film swept the board when it came to awards for best editing; Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that is essentially a car chase across the desert for two hours. A big part of the reason the film was so thrilling was the way it was cut, and the editor was a woman; Margaret Sixel.
A few years ago, Kyle Smith, the New York Post’s film critic, wrote a much derided piece arguing that women can’t understand Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas, perhaps failing to realise that it was edited by a woman. Thelma Schoonmaker is probably the most famous of the great female editors, having worked on almost all of Martin Scorsese’s films, and having the most Oscars of any editor. Being Michael Powell’s widow, it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about film.
Marcia Lucas (George’s then wife) was on the editing team of the original Star Wars movie, and some of the best directors have used female editors.
The late Dede Allen edited films by Sidney Lumet, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Curtis Hanson, and John Hughes, among others. Verna Fields cut American Graffiti and won an Oscar for Jaws. Dorothy Spencer edited three of John Ford’s films, and worked with Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra.
So, why are they best editors women? In Talking For Clapping, his recent Netflix comedy special, Patton Oswalt says every movie you love was directed by a man, but edited by a woman, adding that means it was directed by a woman (which may be news to the men who have directed films he’s been in). He likens to shooting process to childbirth, where the man thinks he’s a genius for creating the baby, but the woman has to spend time making something out of it. It’s an amusing theory, and may hold some water when you consider how many of the best editors are female, and why there are far more female producers than directors; they are the ones that nurture projects to fruition, rather than just turning up, shouting instructions and shooting off a load of film.
Like most positions in the film industry, women are under represented in editing suites, but women seem to hold a special place at the top table.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.