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Sally Menke and Quentin Tarantino. A Short Tribute to an Editor-Filmmaker Relationship

by Christopher Campbell
September 28, 2010 6:33 AM
2 Comments
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I can't believe anyone went hiking in L.A. in that record-high temperature yesterday, but Oscar-nominated editor Sally Menke did. And sadly, she was later found dead in Griffith Park, where she had been walking with a friend and the friend's dog. The heat is obviously being said to be a possible factor, but her true cause of death is unknown.

She worked on many films in the '90s, including "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and Oliver Stone's "Heaven & Earth," and she also worked with Billy Bob Thornton on two of his directorial efforts, but Menke will always be remembered best for her collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. They teamed up on every film of his, from "Reservoir Dogs" to last year's "Inglourious Basterds," for which she earned her second Academy Award nomination. She talked about their relationship a bit in an interview for Editor's Guild magazine last year. A sample:

We muse over everything for a long time. Nothing is simply connected for the sake of connecting. That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t change, but he doesn’t shoot by the hip. All directors embellish as they go along - a new idea because the actors are suddenly doing something. But Quentin really has a vision in his head, and it’s such a small group of people that we’re all able to really support his vision in one way or another. The key to good communication is to keep it intimate. It’s wonderful to find people you can work with again and again. We’re on the same page, and the control that comes from that makes for a very refined product. We’re willing to explore new approaches to making a film.

In the terrific documentary "The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing" (necessary viewing for all film and especially editing students), Tarantino admits he initially preferred a female editor because he believes they are more nurturing and less likely to try to "win their way." Both he and Menke appear a lot, separately, throughout the film (I love when QT talks about the "crazy Russians" "f*cking around"). But there is one great section cutting back and forth between them talking about the editing of the Vincent/Mia date in "Pulp Fiction," the film for which she got her first Oscar nod.

Watch this bit in a video clip (fast forward to the 6:00 mark) after the jump.


The filmmaker also pays Menke a nice little tribute in a "Death Proof"-related video (DVD extra?), which turns into a montage of outtakes featuring the film's cast saying hello to the editor. Apparently this was a common practice for Tarantino to have his actors give shout outs to the "lonely" Menke sitting in the editing suite back home. After the "Death Proof" video you can see the same sort of "Hi Sallys" outtake montage made from "Inglourious Basterds" snippets.


It's clear how much Tarantino appreciated her. The "hi"s come directly from the cast, but they're really all from his heart. Also, in the above video, when he claims that his films are partially co-written by Menke, that's as big an honor as I can imagine an editor can receive. It also reveals just how tragic her death is to his future as a filmmaker. His work will certainly not be the same.


Hello, Sally, and goodbye!


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More: Obituary

2 Comments

  • Mom | September 29, 2010 5:44 AMReply

    Thank you, Christopher, for your article, from which I learned more about Tarantino's "film-making".... and especially how so much of his success depended on Sally Menke's co-writing, her editing, and their close friendship.

    I am so saddened at the news of Ms Menke's death... what a shock it must be to her family, friends, co-workers, the film industry and Tarantino fans.

    You wrote a moving tribute to their relationship and I hope that Mr Tarantino gets a chance to read it. I'm sure he will miss her immensely... as will I and so many others.

    The above you-tube video, that you included, of the "Inglourious Basterds" cast & the out-takes with them all saying "Hi Sally"... brought tears to my eyes.

    As a # 1 Fan of Quentin Tarantino's, I watch several of his films over and over and over, enjoying them more each time I see them. I know Sally will definitely live on in my heart and my mind each time I watch, what I now consider, one of THEIR movies!

    My prayers go out to Sally's family, friends, and fans. And... of course, to Quentin Tarantino.

    Hi, Sally.

    You will be so loved and missed forever, Sweetheart.
    May You Rest in Peace.

    Goodbye, Sally.

  • Steven Flores | September 28, 2010 10:45 AMReply

    Now that is a great director-editor team. Up there with the Spielberg-Kahn, Scorsese-Schoonmaker, Leone-Baragli, and every other great director/editor collaborations.

    I'm sad about her death, even as one of the things about QT's films that I'm excited about is what kind of cuts she will make. I agree that his films won't be the same ever again. At least they have six and 1/4 great films together (i put "kill bill" as one, not two films).

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