Edited By: Women Film Editors
September 13, 2019 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm obsessed with this topic, and this looks amazing! Thanks for posting!
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

From A Brief Backstory
The first films were single shots, but gradually directors like Alice Guy Blaché and Edwin Porter began to develop the art of intercutting shots to create stories.

The workers who handled the film were called “cutters.” These were mostly women. (“She’s so good at sewing and knitting.”)

As the industry solidified, women were pushed out of the director’s chair and torn away from operating the cameras and lights. But they held onto their editing benches.

With the advent of sound in the late 1920’s there was a new effort to push women out of the editing room. (“Cutting sound is so hard. Let’s get the men to do it.”)

In fact, many of the first sound films were edited by women: by Blanche Sewell at MGM, Viola Lawrence at Goldwyn, Jane Loring at Paramount, and Barbara McLean, who edited Mary Pickford’s first sound film, Coquette (which was produced by Pickford through Pickfair Productions, the company she founded in 1919. Pickford also founded United Artists, with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith.)

Women held on to the one place in the industry where they could thrive and develop the complex editing techniques that have advanced film to the point at which it is today.

A few of these editors are well known (Dede Allen, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates) while most aren’t known or have been forgotten.

One of the reasons they’ve been forgotten is due to the nature of their work. The relative invisibility of editors—whether male or female—in contrast to the attention paid to writers, directors, cinematographers and composers, has been unwarranted and unjust. Editors make an essential contribution to the success or failure of a film. It’s time to stop imagining that “it’s really the director” who does the editing.
This is fantastic, thank you!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting topic, but I really wish they had chosen to present it in pretty much any other way.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was wondering whether women got shunted into editing because it was seen as not having agency, or the the other way around. But editing has really crisp, testable agency, yeah? You can give identical copies of the source footage to an array of editors and the results will be distinct.

Hotter take, women got shunted into editing so that the director job could get the auteur status that allows some people to fail upwards, to be misunderstood rather than incoherent.
posted by clew at 4:29 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the frequently cited reasons women were given editing jobs in early Hollywood is that the act of cutting and splicing film was seen as akin to sewing. See this short history of women editors [YT] that editor Joanna Naugle made. It only looks at the Hollywood system, but it's a great addition to the topic. See also this article in the Hollywood Reporter from a few years ago about (male) directors and the women editors they've collaborated with.

It's hard to convey to anyone who doesn't work in media how central the role of an editor is and how fundamentally creative it can be. It's not just about assembling the pieces of a story and chopping out the boring bits. As someone who's collaborated with some amazing editors I strongly feel that they, along with writers and DPs, should have equal billing with directors on many projects. Exhibit A would be Marcia Lucas on Star Wars.
posted by theory at 5:19 PM on September 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

Hotter take, women got shunted into editing so that the director job could get the auteur status that allows some people to fail upwards, to be misunderstood rather than incoherent.

Honestly, this is plausible. Especially given several high-profile cases of movies by mediocre directors being saved in the edit... Like, well, Marcia Lucas on Star Wars.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I wish editors could participate more in the commentaries that accompany digital releases. If I select the commentary track, I want to know how this movie was made. (Great example: Stir of Echoes, an entertaining ghost story by itself, but with a super director's commentary.) If you are watching with the commentary track turned on, that's what you want, not how some actor "was so drunk while doing this scene. *snerk*".
posted by SPrintF at 7:09 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was wondering whether women got shunted into editing because it was seen as not having agency, or the the other way around.

Hotter take, women got shunted into editing so that the director job could get the auteur status that allows some people to fail upwards, to be misunderstood rather than incoherent.

That second take might be a little bit too hot as women were put in the editors booth before "autuerism" was a thing. At first it was likely because it wasn't seen as having much agency or importance when film construction was seen as fairly basic, though sometimes more deceptively so than actually true as one can witness in the huge leaps in visual logic made by connecting images in editing in ways that hadn't been done before as in some of the movies directed by Alice Guy Blaché. (I have a couple acquaintances who absolutely delight in pointing out all the areas of film language that Alice Guy Blaché developed before that alleged genius D.W. Griffith got around to picking up on them.)

Men starting horning in on the territory once it did become clear that editing was a vital part of the creative process, but some women remained because they were good at it and couldn't get easily get the jobs that might require them to order men around, so directing was mostly right out save for a small handful of exceptions. It's true that directors did/do get far more credit than they often deserve for things done in the editing room, but it is a collaborative process for many directors, not all that different than the other parts of the filmmaking they get credit for because they are often the one making the final decision, except when a producer or studio takes a special interest in controlling the work. None of that is at all to say that editors don't deserve far more notice, they certainly do and their work does save/make many "great" director's works.

Just glancing at some of the editors in the linked piece and the work they've done highlights that exceptionally well. Verna Fields edited Jaws, for example, where the editing basically makes the movie work which Spielberg himself acknowledged. She also worked on Medium Cool and Paper Moon, the former of which is also heavily editing dependent and the latter of which shows again how much Bogdanovich relied on the women around him for his success, a good enough example of when that hot take actually is valid. Dede Allen is relatively well known, but the importance of her work on Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, along with other films and just the general aesthetic of seventies filmmaking is hard to overstate.

Anne V. Coates work on Lawrence of Arabia, with its famous match cut from match to sunrise, along with other major films, Ulla Ryghe's work with Bergman on Persona and others of his movies or Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte who edited Truffaut's 400 Blows and Cocteau's The Testament of Orpheus as well as Microcosmos and Winged Migration, Halina Ketling-Prugar who worked with Wajda in Poland or Agnès Guillemot who worked with Godard, or Rachida Abdel-Salam who worked with Chanine in Egypt, or Gloria Schoemann who worked on many films of the Mexican golden age, these are all major contributors to some of the most notable movies from film history. It isn't so much that the directors stole their credits as their importance is generally acknowledged by them, but that they were irreplaceable contributors to the work that also deserve credit alongside the other important collaborators on the movie, like the actors, writers, cinematographers, and production designers to varying degrees. But that is asking people to note the complexity of collaboration and behind the scenes work when they much prefer just keeping it simple and speaking of the actors and maybe director, if they're famous enough.

What kind of kills me though is reading through lists like the one in the link that shows the women who edit their own films and noting how few of their works are even known by most people, much less seen. The amount of brilliant work by women that remains invisible isn't just due to it being behind the scenes, but because most people aren't all that interested in anything that isn't already largely familiar so the invisibility remains long after there is ample evidence of there being a whole other world out there that we're just choosing not to see.

Oh, and thanks to the OP for the great post.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:21 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh, damn, I didn't want to leave out Yelizaveta Svilova who worked with Dziga Vertov on Man with a Movie Camera which is an absolutely essential work in the development of film language. Of course I'm forgetting others too, but the importance of editing to that movie is enormous.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

SPrintF: Here are some editors in commentary tracks and interviews accompanying films:
Nancy Baker - Harlan County USA
Thelma Schoonmaker - Raging Bull
Martine Barraqué - Day for Night (interview)
Anne McCabe - The Daytrippers
Claudine Bouché - Jules et Jim
Amanda Laws and Nels Bangerter - Cameraperson (interview)
Graeme Clifford - Don't Look Now (interview)
Alan Heim - All That Jazz
Tony Lawson - Barry Lyndon (interview)
Walter Murch - The Conversation
Walter Murch - The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Billy Weber - Days of Heaven
Zach Staenberg - The Matrix
posted by theory at 11:20 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Arguably one of the greatest jump cuts in film history, it's worth recognizing Anne V. Coates editing contribution to Lawrence of Arabia. Here is an interview with her. It's worth watching.
posted by Fizz at 5:33 AM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

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