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The women who pioneered film editing


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For Premium Beat, Michael Maher writes about four women who pioneered film editing in Hollywood. Oftentimes related to cameramen, actors or directors, these women were offered positions as “cutters” as film cutting was considered unskilled labor in the early years of cinema. (This brings to mind women’s role in the early years of computing, when women were considered great candidates for programming due to their patience.)

An excerpt below, the full article here.

The Birth of a Nation (1915), Stagecoach (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), Raging Bull (1980), Pulp Fiction (1994), Memento (2000), The Avengers (2012), Star Wars: Episode VII (2015)

Each of these films made cinematic history, but many people don’t realize one thing. All of these films were edited by women. But who are the original pioneers of film editing? Who paved the way for females in film? Before we go in depth, it should be stated that the following is a list of incredible editors. Not “female editors” or “women editors.” No. These are some of the best damn editors who have ever worked in the industry.

Women working as editors dates back to the early days of cinema. In fact, the term “editor” was not even used as a job title. When working with actual film reels, editing a film required you to literally cut and splice scenes together. This gave rise to the term cutter. In the early days of film, cutting was seen as unskilled labor. Practically anyone could be hired for the job, and it actually became a common position for women. The reason most people don’t know this comes from the fact that all of those cutting positions went uncredited in the films.

Margaret Booth
http://pbblogassets.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2015/07/Margaret-Booth.jpg
Image from Stay for the Credits

In 1910, actor Elmer Booth frequently starred in the early works of director D.W. Griffith. Elmer was set to have a large role in the Griffith film Intolerance, but he died in a car crash in 1915. Griffith actually gave the eulogy at the funeral. After his death, Griffith hired Booth’s sister, Margaret, as a “patcher.” This low-end editing job provided her with a living. She immediately got to work on Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation.

The Orpheum Theatre in Haverhill, Massachusetts bought the exclusive rights to show The Birth of a Nation in the New England area. The owner of that theater was none other than Louis B. Mayer. In 1924, Mayer would form the Metro-Goldywn-Mayer company, widely known as MGM. Mayer hired Margaret Booth as a director’s assistant, where she would eventually rise to cut films like The Mysterious Lady and Camille, starring Greta Garbo. It was actually MGM’s head of production, Irving Thalberg, that would coin the term film editor when describing Margaret’s skill.

In 1936 came the release of Mutiny on the Bounty. The film was a massive success, and Booth received an Oscar Nomination for Best Film Editing. The film had a total of 8 nominations, and won the Oscar for Best Picture. Her talents would not go unnoticed, as Booth soon became the studio’s editor-in-chief in 1939. She immediately became the supervising editor behind The Wizard of OZ, which was edited by Blanche Sewell. Booth did not receive editing credit for working on other major MGM films like The Red Badge of Courage and Ben-Hur. She remained the editor-in-chief at MGM until 1968.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Booth would supervise a variety of films. The last film she supervised was the 1982 hit Annie. She received an Honorary Oscar in 1978 for her contributions to the art of film making. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 104.

*Cover image “Stagecoach” from United Artists via NY Times