Imagine that: Dede Allen, Hollywood's greatest film editor, died Oscarless
When I read the obituaries earlier this week paying tribute to Dede Allen, who died Saturday at 86 after pretty much revolutionizing the art of film editing, I got to wondering -- how many Oscars did she win in her long career? After all, when you start adding up the amazing films that she worked on as an editor -- she was the first film editor to receive sole credit on a movie, for her seminal work on "Bonnie and Clyde" -- you have quite a collection of great American movies.
So let's see, when we scroll through Allen's credits, we've got "The Hustler," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Slap Shot," "Reds," "The Breakfast Club" and "Wonder Boys," just to name a few outstanding movies. So of all those films, how many did she win an Oscar for?
That answer would be: zero.
This would simply be one of many examples of the sad truth about the Academy Awards. They are an award given out by an increasingly insular group of industry-ites to films that are considered weighty and important at the time but are often far from the best movies made in any particular year. This goes double for the Oscars given for the best editing, cinematography and score, which all too often tend to be awarded to people who worked on the most popular Oscar movies, not to people who actually did the best work that year.
In fact, Allen wasn't even nominated for "Bonnie and Clyde," if you can imagine that. Nor was she nominated for "The Hustler," "Serpico" or "The Breakfast Club," that last being the John Hughes film that may well have featured her best work of all. She did get noms for "Dog Day Afternoon," "Reds" and "Wonder Boys," losing each time to editors of films that did better at the box office. (Trivia alert: In the year that "Bonnie and Clyde" was eligible, the Oscar for best editing went to none other than Hal Ashby, who edited "In the Heat of the Night" before he graduated to directing.)
I could go on and on about Allen, but if you want to read an impressive tribute, check out this piece for Salon by Matt Zoller Seitz, who does a nice job of explaining what made Allen so special. He calls her a performance editor, writing:
"It takes special intuition to cull raw footage of actors' performances and piece the best stuff together to create compelling, memorable characters -- ones you can imagine having lives beyond the edges of the screen. Allen had that intuition, that gift. Her best work has a people watcher's sensibility: a rapt yet affectionate eye. Think of Communist revolutionary John Reed on his deathbed in 'Reds,' asking Louise Bryant to come to New York with him ("I've got a taxi waiting"), his voice buoyant, his eyes frightened...or the assistant principal in 'The Breakfast Club,' interrogating the detention kids, hoping to learn which of them removed a screw from the library door."
I know that Oscars are not the end all, be all, when it comes to being remembered for your work. But when it comes to Dede Allen, it would've been nice if her peers had done a better job of recognizing her great work while she was still around to enjoy the accolades.
Photo: Dede Allen, hard at work editing one of her films. Credit: Associated Press / Courtesy of Tom Fleischman