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R.I.P. Dede Allen, One of Greatest Movie Editors Ever

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 19, 2010 at 2:35AM

We raised a glass to late editor Dede Allen at a Sunday brunch party given by author Cari Beauchamp, and talked about why Allen was such a big deal. Tim Appelo remembered that when John Hughes couldn't come up with an ending for Trains, Planes and Automobiles, he channelled Allen and flipped a few scenes around and constructed the perfect emotional pay-off for his movie.
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Thompson on Hollywood

We raised a glass to late editor Dede Allen at a Sunday brunch party given by author Cari Beauchamp, and talked about why Allen was such a big deal. Tim Appelo remembered that when John Hughes couldn't come up with an ending for Trains, Planes and Automobiles, he channelled Allen and flipped a few scenes around and constructed the perfect emotional pay-off for his movie.

Editors are the unsung heroes of cinema, but Allen, who died at 86, got more than the usual share of praise, including three Academy Award nominations (Dog Day Afternoon, Reds and The Wonder Boys). According to the LAT obit, Arthur Penn gave her the first solo editing credit on Bonnie and Clyde. "She wasn't an editor," he said to the LAT. "She was a constructionist."

Allen's French New Wave-influenced staccato cutting and audio shifting revolutionized the editing profession, although many didn't see it at the time. Allen called herself "a gut editor--intellect and taste count, but I cut with my feelings." In Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris quotes her focus on "character, character, character." Penn told Harris, "Dede is enormously sensitive to a good, well-acted moment. A lot of actors owe a great deal to her."

Amazingly, Warren Beatty neglected to thank Allen when he accepted his best directing Oscar for Reds--because, he said later, he was going to thank her when he accepted for Best Picture, but the award went to Chariots of Fire. Peter Biskind's reporting in his Warren Beatty bio Star on what Allen endured during the arduous post-production of Reds, editing some two million feet of footage, is worth reading. The book paints a portrait of a consummate professional holding an unwieldy production together by sheer force of will--at one point weeping into her hands with frustration over the endless cutting and recutting--and still delivering a great movie. Beatty has said he wouldn't want to change a frame.

UPDATE: Here's Carrie Rickey, Matt Singer and Matt Zoller Seitz.

Here's a clip from Bonnie and Clyde:

[Photo montage courtesy The Auteurs.]

This article is related to: Headliners, Obit, Warren Beatty


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.