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Editing to the Beat

From the beginning, Margaret Booth said, she tried to find the rhythm of a movie, to craft a film “like poetry.”
“When I cut silent films, I used to count to get the rhythm. If I was cutting a march of soldiers, or anything with a beat to it, and I wanted to change the angle, I would count one-two-three-four-five-six. I made a beat for myself.”
If the film was a comedy, she stepped up the tempo. If it was a musical, she cut on the downbeats. “Otherwise, you get a jarring cut and it throws things off,” she said.
“You should not feel the breaks. It’s like pauses and breaths that you take on the stage. It has its ups and downs and its pace.”
“The Parade’s Gone By” by Kevin Brownlow. The full text can be found in the Appendix.

Legendary producer Irving Thalberg was the one who began calling cutters “film editors,” starting with Booth. “He depended on her as much as [he did on] any writer,” Beauchamp said. “The two of them would go to a screening and sit next to each other, making plans for how the re-shoot would be done and how it would be edited.”
“Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood” by Cari Beauchamp

Once, when editing a film for George Roy Hill, Booth was not happy with something he was doing. [Dede] Allen recounted the story.
“Mr. Hill, are you telling me you want that on a 60-foot screen?” she demanded.
“I guess I don’t, do I?” he replied.
“No, you don’t,” Booth said firmly.
In fact, Booth once said, she preferred directors who stayed out of the cutting room entirely.
“Most of them are bad editors.”
“The Parade’s Gone By” by Kevin Brownlow. The full text can be found in the Appendix.



Margaret Booth

1898 – 2002

Margaret Booth started editing for D.W. Griffith in 1915 and worked as an editor until 1936. She has forty-four credits, among them for several films starring Greta Garbo including Camille. She was nominated for an Oscar for Mutiny on the Bounty, for which she also has a writer’s credit. Her editing credits end early because in 1932 she became one of the most powerful figures at MGM Studios through her position as the supervising editor, a position she held until 1969. Booth controlled the dailies of every film the studio made and had the power to order reshoots. She would frequently intervene with directors, writing new scenes when she found story problems during her nightly views of their rushes. She was also, later, an associate producer at MGM.

Although she never received a competitive Oscar, the legendary Margaret Booth was the first — and up until now, one of only two — picture editors to win an Academy Honorary Award (a.k.a. the Honorary Oscar) for “exceptional contributions to the art of film editing in the motion picture industry.” It was presented at the 50th annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1978. The only other picture editor to win one was Anne V. Coates, in 2016.

“Booth is considered one of the pioneers of the “invisible edit,” and though she learned a lot with Griffith, her main influence actually came from German expressionism. She would go as far as foreseeing the auteur theory, claiming that great directors have a distinctive rhythm of their own, and it was the job of the cutter to find it and bring it out in the editing.”
Excerpt from “‘A Tedious Job’ – Women and Film Editing” by Sara Galvão at Critics Associated.