Appreciating editing legend Anne Coates

Film history buff and Imagination Connoisseur, Cinema Gulp, shares his appreciation for editing legend Anne Coates and the remarkable job she did stitching together David Lynch’s classic, THE ELEPHANT MAN.

Hey there Rob,

First and foremost I wanted to share my regret that I am unable to submit a film to what should be an extraordinary Film Festival event. I am in awe of what you have put together so quickly. Unfortunately, my YouTube partner and I are stuck in the middle of making a short film that is far from complete and wouldn’t you know it, his wife is now expecting their first child, so who knows when our film will ever get done. Regardless, I’ll be there to watch all of the Imagination Connoisseur’s films and cheer on the creative work that everyone puts out. Should be a great time.

I am writing to you today because I recently watched “The Elephant man” which as you know is one of David Lynch’s greatest films. Stuffed with amazing performances and score, as well as editing. I’ve mentioned to you in many of my letters that I too am an editor like yourself. Not nearly as successful, but nonetheless doing the daily grind, with probably my biggest gig to date being lead editor for one season of the Lingerie Football League.

But like yourself, while watching a film, more than anything, I am cursed with noticing the editing over even the story. Well those go hand and hand. So watching “The elephant man” put me into one of those moods to constantly PAUSE, REWIND,REPEAT. The editing is fantastic in this film. I know Lynch has always been extremely hands on when it comes to the cutting room with most of his projects, but for some reason this one feels more reserved. It feels less tinkered with by Lynch. It has its own look, feel, and pacing that some of his more manic films don’t with the exception of maybe “The Straight Story”.

I realized that its because it was cut by the legendary Anne Coates. A marvelous editor from the early days of cinema. Her first cutting job where she took on the duties of 1st editor was in 1954 when she cut “The Pickwick papers”. Before that, she enjoyed being under the mentorship of editor John Seabourne, acting as his Assistant editor. Seabourne’s work includes; “The Green Buddha” and “The man without a face”. He was reaching the end of his career and would let Anne cut entire sequences just so that he could go home early. He taught her not to do too much fiddling around with match cutting so that she could cut at the heart of the scene.

During the editing process of “The Elephant man” she actually broke her wrist and yet she continued cutting. However, in the final cut of this film, she was blamed for showing the appearance of the “Elephant man”, however, this was actually a Lynch decision and was planned from the beginning. She said that she liked working with Lynch.

Coates largest film to date was the 1962 David Lean masterpiece “Lawrence of Arabia”. She was young and the job came her direction due to some odd coincidences. She bumped into the assistant editor while shopping with her husband. She struck up a conversation with him and got the producers name from him. When she talked to the producer he told her that she could cut the film for fifty pounds a week with no assistant editor. She finalized the film and Lean was blown away when watching the test screening. He told her that it was exactly the way he envisioned it. And isn’t that a great thing for an editor to hear?

After that, she went on to cut many more films. Most recently being “I love you to death”, and one of my favorite dark comedies of all time, “What about Bob?”. In the early 90s she cut the book adaptation of “Farewell to the King”, directed by John Milius. She masterfully cut this lengthy book pic into a watchable two-hour epic film. This was due to her belief in cutting a film by scene and not in any particular order. This method seems to have worked for her and its a method that I use to this day.

I’ve always wondered what methods you have adopted over the years and how it is that you see a scene before cutting it.
I know this is a long conversation that is probably better suited for another time, but you being such an accomplished film editor, I suspect there has to be a specific way you look at footage and organize it before starting. I want to know what’s in that brain of yours. I might just learn something.

As always, thank you for reading my letter sir and I am beyond excited for the film festival. I’ve spoken with some many of the great Imagination Connoisseurs from the amazing community that you have created and I know we are all in for a treat with their films. Man, I wish ours was ready.

P.S. my Halloween episode of Film & Vinyl has just hit our YouTube channel and its on the awesome Dan O’Bannon 1985 zombie classic “The Return of the living Dead”. If you have any time, please check it out. I dig deep into not only the making of the film, but the making of its badass Psychobilly soundtrack.

Be well sir and keep doing everything you are doing.

Peace and love from Cinema Gulp

 

Editor’s Note: we’ve found Ms. Coates talking about her work on THE ELEPHANT MAN and thought it might be nice to include it with Cinema Gulp’s letter …

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