In May 2010, Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s longtime film editor, received the Susan B. Anthony “Failure Is Impossible” Award at the George Eastman House 360 | 365 Film Festival in Rochester, N.Y. (Past recipients of the award, which honors prominent female figures in the film industry, include Pam Grier, Angela Bassett, and Julie Taymor.) Programmed alongside a screening of The Red Shoes, a very personal film for Schoonmaker — she was married to director Michael Powell from 1984-1990, the year of his death, and she and Scorsese were instrumental in the recent restoration of the picture — the presentation of the award also included a 30-minute discussion with the Oscar-winning editor about the nature of her craft and her decades-spanning alliance with Scorsese.
A brief introduction from the moderator sketches the Algerian-born Schoonmaker’s general biography: her early interest in politics at Cornell, her first encounter with Scorsese at NYU, a starting-out editing job cutting down classic movies to conform with TV time-slot scheduling. The bulk of the video, however, is wonderfully interactive, with Schoonmaker walking the audience through a number of signature Scorsese sequences: the three stylistically distinct Sugar Ray Robinson fight scenes from Raging Bull; the Steadicam tracking shot that kicks off the Copacabana scene in Goodfellas; and a centerpiece crash sequence from The Aviator, which Schoonmaker playfully admits is probably the reason she won the Oscar.
Ever-modest, Schoonmaker analyzes these clips with significant generosity toward her collaborators. She attributes Raging Bull’s famous animal noises to sound editor Frank Warner (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who retired from the industry in the late-‘80s. She also sings the praises of Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci’s improvisatory talents; her reading of the “You think I’m funny?” back-and-forth from Goodfellas is a nice introduction to the art of editing improvised performances. Perhaps naturally, Schoonmaker also expresses a bit of disillusionment regarding what she calls the industry’s current standard of “food-blender” editing.
Watch the discussion in full by clicking on the image below (via Refocused Media):
What are some of your favorite Schoonmaker-edited sequences?