An Academy-Award winning editor once saw Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye on my bookshelf. “That book is bullshit,” he said. “If you want to know what it’s really like being an editor, I’ll tell you what you need to read: When the Shooting Stops…”
And so I did. And he was right. When the Shooting Stops… is less focussed on the techniques of editing and more focussed on techniques of surviving in the rough world of the movie business. Editor Ralph Rosenblum cut many great movies, from A Thousand Clowns to The Pawnbroker to Annie Hall, all of which he talks about in the book. But it is some of the lesser-known films he talks about that make the biggest impression. Battles with directors, producers and the footage itself together form a compelling picture of a life spent making movies.
With writing help from Robert Karen, Rosenblum relates episodes from his creative life with a little dollop of movie history giving a background on the development of various editing philosophies. Like a movie that Rosenblum has edited, the book does not move precisely chronologically. Instead, it opens with the dramatic two-part story of how he “saved” William Friedkin’s third film, The Night They Raided Minsky’s. The editing techniques he describes – use of stock footage, abrupt music cuts, starting and ending scenes unpredictably – can all be seen in recent movies like The Big Short.
Rosenblum talks about his entree into the editing business, through assisting on documentaries. And he dishes on the directors he’s worked with, people like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. There is a late chapter in the book where he both sympathizes with and excoriates young directors who have let the auteur theory go to their heads. In Rosenblum’s experience, “almost all directors” identify “themselves with the giants of their trade” and “immediately begin demanding the right to control the final cut of the film, not because their ability or their body of work justified it but because their swollen sense of self-importance coveted it.” The best directors, in Rosenblum’s estimation, are the ones who allow other people to make creative contributions without taking it as a personal affront to their own status.
The late chapters deal with Rosenblum’s relationship with Woody Allen, one of those directors who is open to creative collaboration. The story of Annie Hall is of course famous for being ‘found’ in the editing room. Rosenblum died in 1995 and, if you feel some of Woody’s later films haven’t been as good, it may be the sensitive, surprising and savvy contributions of Rosenblum that you have been missing.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in practicing the craft of editing, and more importantly I recommend it to any young directors who would rather be good filmmakers than be worshipped.