I’ve always been concerned when editors get awards and directors don’t. It seems wrong to me because without the material we can’t do a thing. We are only interpreting what we’re given. We are the dream repairmen. That’s what we do. We repair other people’s dreams.
Jim Clark, from Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing
UK editor Jim Clark entered the cutting room at age 20 in 1951 and in 2010, at 79, turned in Made in Dagenham, Mike Leigh’s latest film, released this year. (See January 27th post: I loved this film.) In case you’re not familiar with this work, here’s a partial list of his credits: Vera Drake, The Jackal, Marvin’s Room, Copycat, Nell, The Mission, The Killing Fields (for which he won the Oscar), Marathon Man, The Day of the Locust, Charade…the list goes on.
But what I want to talk about today is Clark’s book, Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing, written with the help of John H. Myers and debuting in 2009. There’s a lot of years and a lot of life to cover and Clark does it as succinctly as possible in 300 pages. He worked at the famed British studios – Ealing, Pinewood, Shepperton – and many across the pond: WB, Columbia, Universal, etc. Clark talks about the stars, the directors, and the producers along with the hits and the duds, which he puts in, he says, “simply because their progress to the movie graveyard is memorable.”
Clark also mentions the tools. He started when the medium was nitrate film and cutting rooms prohibited smoking, fearing the picture would go up in smoke before being exhibited and going down in flames. He started with British editing tools including the Compeditor, Acmade’s pic sync (pictured on left), Robot joiner which made hot cement (glue) splices, and, the Moy inkcode machine, where he, like a lot of assistants, coded many a movie before ascending the next step on the ladder. He moved on to the Moviola, the KEM, the Steenbeck, Lightworks, and finally, Avid (pictured on right).
Clark is in good company with his memoir, following Ralph Winters’ A Few Cutting Remarks, Bobbie and Sam O’Steens’ Cut to the Chase, and Ralph Rosenblum and Roberts Karen’s When the Shooting Stops…the Cutting Begins. What sets Clark’s book apart is the sheer length of his career as an A-list editor and his frankness. Most editors, by nature and in order to survive, are taciturn with producers, directors, and other powers-that-be, unless there is a helluva a lot of trust. Clark does his share of lip biting in the face of the attitude [my words], “What do you know? Just cut the damn picture and shut up.” Like the rest of them and us, he also stands up for the footage – even when it’s indefensible – trying to pull the best piece out of the pile of rubbish by cutting scenes in many different ways, suggesting re-cuts, and even re-writing the script on one movie.
Editing film is really a combination of instinct and experience with a lot of experimentation thrown in.
Jim Clark, from the Foreword to Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing
Where Clark goes that no editor memoir has gone before, is to a higher level of frankness about his profession, those he worked with – many in the grave – and the cost to his family. Bravely, he inserts letters from his wife and his daughter where they strongly and lovingly ask why he is in Hollywood in a nightmarish post that is taking him away from them indefinitely. About the job – his one high-flying foray into being an administrator – he writes, “In spite of my sophisticated title as a Columbia executive, my real job was studio mortician. When I received these films they were dead and, though I couldn’t bring them to life, I could touch up the corpse. That what I was doing, touching them up so they would be releasable.”
I don’t really have a definite style. Each project brings with it a new set of challenges that must be met.
Jim Clark, Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing
Most of us won’t have stratospheric careers like Clark, but the long hours, the lack of fresh air and exercise, the frustration, dare I say it – the resentments and the feelings of futility – as well as the time we take away from our loved ones are the same. This is why I titled this post “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Editor.” You’ve got to have stamina, an insane and true love of puzzling together shot material – and being called and desired to do this – to make it in the long run. The nominations, awards, and compliments are fleeting. It’s what you create of yourself and your life and whom you love and loves you that’s important.
Buy this book to learn about the editor’s life, to dip into editing history, and to spend time with a superb cutter who brought us all some important and memorable films. I’ll leave the last words to Clark who ends the book with this: “It’s not always the hits that one remembers fondly. As this story has indicated, I had fun working on them all. It [his grandson’s asking why Day of the Locust wasn’t more appreciated] did get me thinking. Perhaps my life has not been entirely wasted after all. When I look at my family, I know it hasn’t.”
Editing & life, Editing practices, Editor’s role