The Power of the Close-up
Viola Lawrence understood the power of close-ups and that highlighting an actor’s eyes would add to the drama and emotion of a shot. When assigned to edit The Lady from Shanghai, she reported to studio boss Harry Cohn that “the footage was a jumbled mess” and that Welles “had not shot a single close-up.” Welles reluctantly obeyed orders to add some.
1894 – 1973
Viola Lawrence began at age eleven holding title cards for the Brooklyn-based company Vitagraph, and edited her first film in 1912. By 1915, she became the second female film cutter in cinema history (after Anna McKnight, who also worked at Vitagraph) and is considered the first female cutter in Hollywood. She moved there in 1917 and was signed by Carl Laemmle and worked variously for Universal, First National, Gloria Swanson Productions, and Columbia Pictures. She became Columbia’s supervising editor in 1925. She edited Samuel Goldwyn Studio’s first sound film, Bulldog Drummond, in 1929, then rejoined Columbia in 1934 and remained there until 1960. Lawrence edited two seminal films noir: The Lady from Shanghai and In a Lonely Place. She got two Oscar nominations, for Pepe and the musical Pal Joey. Lawrence also edited two of Dorothy Arzner’s films, Craig’s Wife and First Comes Courage.
“Quite naturally, I’m on the woman’s side in my profession. I don’t think there are enough woman cutters…If you ask me, women have more heart and feeling than men in this work. Now, listen to my masculine contemporaries yell when they hear this!”
— “The Eyes to Me Are Everything: Viola Lawrence’s 47 Years of Seeing into the Eyes of Actors to Convey the Essence of Characters” by David Meuel. The full text can be found in the Appendix.