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.
Here's a clip from Bonnie and Clyde:
[Photo montage courtesy The Auteurs.]