The death of legendary editor Dede Allen, 86, naturally requires an acknowledgment of her innovations. Those would be (a) shock or jump cuts and (b) running sound from a forthcoming scene before actually cutting to it — i.e.. “pre-lapping.” And yet the biggest feather in Allen’s cap has always been (and always will be) her cutting of the country-road massacre finale from Bonnie and Clyde. Still a knockout but truly astonishing back in the day.
I’ve never forgotten and never will forget that clip of a briefly exhilarated Faye Dunaway looking up at the flying birds just before the roar of gunfire. My favorite description of the carnage what followed was from Pauline Kael — i.e., a “rag-doll dance of death.”
The irony is that Allen allowed assistant Jerry Greenberg to do the actual cutting on this sequence. Allen supervised, of course, but “she let him do that,” says Warren Beatty biographer Peter Biskind.
The legend is that Allen borrowed her jump cuts and shock cuts from French nouvelle vague films. And yet Biskind says Allen told him this wasn’t so. “She said she never watched very many French new wave films and that she basically got these techniques from working on TV commercials,” Biskind recalled this morning.
I’ve spent the last half-hour searching around for a visual tutorial that explicitly shows how Allen applied her innovations, but no dice so far. You’d think someone would have cut one together by now. Allen has been on the map since 1961, after all, when she landed her first solo editing credit on Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler.
In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s Allen’s name was a signifier of elegant class-act cinema. Her credits beside Bonnie and Clyde and The Hustler included significant films by Arthur Penn (Alice’s Restaurant, Little Big Man, Night Moves and The Missouri Breaks), Paul Newman (Rachel, Rachel, Harry & Son), Warren Beatty (Reds, which was co-edited by Craig McKay), Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Wiz), George Roy Hill (Slaughterhouse-Five, Slap Shot) and Robert Redford (The Milagro Beanfield War).
From 1958’s Terror From The Year 5000 through ’08’s Fireflies in the Garden, Allen edited or co-edited some 31 films. She bailed on editing 1992 to 2000 after taking the job of head of post production at Warner Bros.
Claudia Luther‘s L.A. Times obit says Allen “was the first film editor — male or female — to receive sole credit on a movie for her work,” and that “this honor came with Bonnie and Clyde.” Okay, maybe…but why does Allen have sole credit as the Hustler editor on the IMDB? I was home I’d run the DVD and double-check. (I’m currently sitting in a motel room on Route 7 in Ridgefield, Connecticut.)
I’ve always loved the opening-credit sequence in The Hustler, which I presume Allen had something to do with. It basically used footage from various scenes throughout the film (which a first-time viewer obviously wouldn’t have the first contextual clue about) and freeze-frame them when the credit pops up — i.e., “directed by Robert Rossen.” I don’t know for a fact that Allen came up with this idea, but it would fit into her profile if she did.