Dede Allen, R.I.P.

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Another titan of the movie business died over the weekend — without ever winning an Oscar.

Dorothea Carothers “Dede” Allen had a long and productive life — she was 86 when she died — but the Academy Award eluded her in spite of the revolutionary impact she had on her own craft and the art of moviemaking.

Allen’s editing of “Bonnie & Clyde” was instrumental in elevating what could have been a B gangster flick into one of the most admired and most discussed pictures of the 1960s.

It was the cutting that kept the movie right on the edge between comedy and horror — most notably in the failed bank robbery scene early in the movie in which we laugh at Michael Pollard’s inept driving skills (and the bluegrass music on the soundtrack) until there is a shock cut to the bank employee who has just taken a bullet in the face.

At the end of the movie, Allen’s editing of the now legendary “ballet of death” in which Bonnie and Clyde are blasted with countless bullets — and the images alternate between slow motion footage and fast cuts — turned the moment into the second most famous violent sequence in movie history (after the shower murder in “Psycho”).

Allen was the first to admit that she was heavily influenced by the mix of emotional moods in the early 1960s French New Wave films of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, but she gave the slightly jagged approach to realism her own distinctive look.

The obit in The Los Angeles Times noted that with the landmark 1967 movie “Allen raised the level of her craft to an art form that was as seriously discussed as cinematography or even directing.”

“She was just an extraordinary collaborator, and in the course of editing that film, I came to develop confidence in Dede,” director Arthur Penn told The Times on Saturday. “Indeed, she wasn’t an editor, she was a constructionist.”

In 1967, Allen lost the Oscar to another master editor Hal Ashby for his work on “In the Heat of the Night” (which was also named best picture over “Bonnie & Clyde”).

Allen’s brilliant editing of Sidney Lumet’s “Serpico” in 1973 wasn’t nominated. The duo worked together again on “Dog Day Afternoon” — check out the editing in that film during the accidental gunshot scene — but Allen again lost to a superb competitor (Verna Fields for “Jaws”).

Allen’s first major film was “The Hustler” in 1961. Perhaps due to the extraordinary editing on that movie, star Paul Newman hired the cutter for his directorial debut film, “Rachel, Rachel,” in 1968.

The editor was choosy about her collaborators and tended to work with the same directors over and over again. So you will see her credit on fairly obscure films like James Bridges’ woefully underrated 1984 film noir, “Mike’s Murder.” Some say Allen’s early preference for offbeat New York-based films hurt her in the Oscar races because that category was then dominated by old-line Hollywood cutters.   

A few years ago, Allen gave a terrific interview to fellow editor Mia Goldman (at www.editorsguild.com) where she talked about her good fortune in starting out in New York City, far from Tinsel Town:

“I came out of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ in New York, when people had much more control of their pictures. I miss that process immensely – the freedom to get a picture, to make it a labor of love that everybody’s involved with and excited about. It’s much harder to do today, even if you’re on an independent, I would imagine. I miss the fact that the process has become so interfered with. I miss that intimacy. It’s become…a victim of Corporate America. But that’s the world we live in.”

Joe Meyers

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