Culture

'The Most Famous of Edits'

Found via the IMDB, the Flickering Myth Website talks with Anne V. Coates, the editor of Lawrence of Arabia. The whole interview is well worth your time, but here, Coates explains how one of the greatest — and influential — edits of all time came together:

The biggest challenge was the amount of footage. “We had 33 miles of film. That’s a lot of film to go through and make choices on in very little time,” reveals the native of Reigate, England. “The difficulty was working out what you were going to leave out. David said that once. What makes a really good editor is what they leave out of a film.” A much celebrated transition is the one of a lighted match to a sunrise. “It was in the script as a dissolve, but we saw it cut together before we had the optical delivered. We looked at the job and said, ‘My, God it worked fantastic!’ We tried taking a frame off here and there. David said to me in the end, ‘That’s nearly perfect. Take it away and make it perfect.’ I literally took two frames off of the outgoing scene and that’s the way it is today. It wasn’t a momentous thing to us. It was only when somebody rang me at three o’clock in the morning from Australia to ask me what I was thinking about when I did that cut; I said, ‘I didn’t have any idea.’ Several direct cuts like that were originally my idea because David hadn’t seen the La Nouvelle Vague French direct cutting. I got him to see a couple of films. He loved it and did it even better.

Indeed he did — armed with a great editor:



The above YouTube clip currently has 28 thousand views, 47 likes, and one dislike. Assuming that one dislike wasn’t an accident, how do you dislike one of the greatest moments in motion picture history? If it’s not high-tech enough for that person, consider that 2001 A Space Odyssey’s famous moment when “Moonwatcher” throwing his bone into the air only for it to metaphorically arrive, via a similar smash cut, four million years into the future orbiting the earth as a nuclear-armed satellite. That moment would likely never have occurred without this edit first.

Incidentally, in the interview Coates talks about the very minor edits that she and Lean made to slightly tighten a few scenes when Lawrence was restored in the late 1980s. Naturally, as with everything Lean did, these were performed with the utmost taste.

Unlike some directors we know