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Dede Allen passes away; one of the top Editors of all time, "inventor" of the "L-cut"

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Mark Suszko
Dede Allen passes away; one of the top Editors of all time, "inventor" of the "L-cut"
on Apr 19, 2010 at 3:16:34 pm

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Tim Wilson
Re: Dede Allen passes away; one of the top Editors of all time, "inventor" of the "L-cut"
on Apr 19, 2010 at 11:53:21 pm

I was privileged to present her with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in New York a couple of years ago, and it was a gas. In the middle of my presentation, I also introduced Arthur Penn, her director on Bonnie & Clyde.

When she started editing, it was considered women's work, like sewing. Definitely not a front-line creative job. Others from that era include Anne Coates (Lawrence of Arabia among a jillion others) and Thelma Schoonmaker (one of whose assitants on Woodstock, a kid credited as Marty Scorcese, went on to pretty good things).

I asked her about the first entry in her IMDb profile, "Because of Eve." She swore she'd never heard of it, and had no idea why it was on her profile at all. She suspected that it was probably some anti-VD propaganda film, because she did a lot of that kind of thing back in the day, and had no expectation of ever getting credit for it. It really was piece work.

Her break came from Robert Wise, who put her in the lead chair "Odds Against Tomorrow" in 1959. If The Hustler was the first "great" movie she worked on (1961), it's hard to overstate the impact of "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967. One of the things I pointed out in my speech is that critics first HATED that movie. Among them was Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, who called it

"...a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic....This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth."

He actually wrote SEVEN reviews of the movie in various contexts, including the Montreal Film Festival, and substantial replies to letters to the editor.

Time: "a strange and purposeless mingling of fact and claptrap that teeters uneasily on the brink of burlesque"

Newsweek: "a squalid shoot-'em for the moron trade"

You can look this kind of thing up all day. It's quite remarkable.

Beatty talked the studio into re-releasing the picture to coincide with Oscar season. It also coincided with a critical re-evaluation of the movie - once people got past the shock.

Among the only critics in the country to praise it out of the gate was the 27-year old critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, in his first year on the job, little Roger Ebert:

""Bonnie and Clyde" is a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking, and astonishingly beautiful. If it does not seem that those words should be strung together, perhaps that is because movies do not very often reflect the full range of human life."

The whole thing is worth reading, as much for its leaps of language as what it actually says.

The reason I'm going into all of this is that on Bonnie and Clyde, Dede Allen was the first editor to ever receive sole credit on an American feature film, and she was honored with the first of her 4 Oscar nominations for editing it. The others are Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Reds (1981), and Wonder Boys (2000).

I asked her about editing Bonnie and Clyde, and she gave all the credit to Arthur Penn. "He kept coming into the editing room and saying, 'Faster! Faster! I want those cuts closer together!'"

She also noted that her assistant cut the finale...which is what so many less careful presenters than I -- including one this very night! -- gave her the credit for. Very generous, that Dede, who I suspect was responsible for far more than she let on.

Wonder Boys is particularly remarkable to me: after FIFTY TWO YEARS of editing on film, this was her first movie cut on Avid. (This had something to do with why I was at this particular event.) Nice to know that after 50+ years in the game, she still had new tricks to learn.

Here's what really struck me about her career - she was at the absolute Ground Zero of one the truly golden ages of cinema. After Alice's Restaurant in 1969 (!!!), check out her run from 1970-1980:

Little Big Man (Penn)
Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill)
Visions of Eight (8 directors including Milos Forman, John Schlessinger, Mai Zetterling, and A. Penn)
Serpico (Lumet)
Night Moves (Penn)
Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet)
The Missouri Breaks (Penn)
Slap Shot (Hill)
The Wiz (Lumet - I had forgotten that!!!)
Reds Released in 1981, but editing began in early 1980.

Other highlights: The Breakfast Club (!!!), Harry & Son for her old friend Paul Newman, Henry & June (Philip Kaufman), The Addams Family (!!!) and many others. Incredibly, incredibly diverse...and wow, that run in the 70s is unbelievable. Has any editor done 10 pictures in a row, in 10-ish years, that were this good? I couldn't find anybody else even vaguely in the running.

This is kind of rambling off the top of my head. I actually had a very well-crafted piece put together (if I say so myself) that went much farther to put her work into the context of women in Hollywood, and the first golden age of maverick moviemaking. I may try to write something back up, but until then, an amazing, amazing woman, whose work you really should dig into.

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

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