Thursday, January 7, 2010

"The Cutting Edge" and Feminine Sensibility

Yesterday we wrapped up watching The Cutting Edge in film editing. No, not the 1990s ice skating film starring DB Swenney and Moira Kelly (though I admit rather liking it). But rather the documentary about editors and editing that I believe sets a really good foundation of the history and craft of editing for my class.

Although I have seen the film many times, the one thing that struck me this time around was how much the role of the editor was feminized. Especially in contrast to the very masculine role of the director. In fact, the way that many of the directors in the film spoke about their editors, it was as if they were a married couple; the director was the husband and head of household and the editor was the wife who supported the husbands' endeavors. Truth be told, as a filmmaker myself, I completely realize that the relationship between and editor and a director is intense and intricate. However, the issue was not the closeness of the relationship between editor and director, but rather the insistence by several prominent directors that women make better editors due to an inherent "maternal" quality that they/we possess.

Quentin Tarintino actually said that he wanted a female sensibility and "emotionality" to his films and that is why when he was looking for someone to cut Resevoir Dogs he specifically went out in search of a female editor. Eventually he met Sally Menke who he's now made several films with. Steven Spielberg called Verna Fields, who edited Jaws, an "earth mother" and said that she was very maternal.

Overall, there was an inference that the editor was there to play an important, but supportive, role and that a female "sensibility" fit the role of the editor perfectly. Thus, the relationship of the editor to the director really operate like antiquated notions of marriage; the editors were subservient and supportive, important, but had to be coy in the way that they persuaded their directors to see things their way. Therefore, it is really interesting to me that one of the few jobs in Hollywood that has traditionally involved more women is one which supposedly "fits" us perfectly - that of the editor.

The problem with this scenario is that it implies that there is a female "sensibility"; that there is something inherent within our DNA that inclines us to supportive and nurturing roles. Since this type of mentality is often in contrast to the qualities assumed for film directors - commanding, assertive - it means that though women are "born" to be editors that we are not appropriate for the role of director. In fact, in the documentary The Cutting Edge the only female director that was interviewed was Jodie Foster. Now the director of the documentary is also female, Wendy Apple, and the issue of including more female directors in the documentary is not really the problem. The conundrum is that the Director's Guild of America is currently only about 25% women. However, if you add up the total days that directors work, the last statistical information I could find, put female directors at about 7% of all the days worked by DGA members in a year. It is shameful. Something I hope begins to rapidly change and, also, something I will blog about as we get closer to awards season. Director Kathryn Bigelow has a shot at at least an Oscar nomination for her work on The Hurt Locker and it will be interesting to see what happens.


  1. I had the same thoughts and feelings you did when I saw Cutting Edge the first time.

    I'm also rooting for Bigelow this awards season. It has got me thinking that our next film should be a horror/thriller/action just to keep the trend going. :-)

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  2. I thought Walter Murch's analysis of the pre-sound vs. post-sound era was also intensely fascinating: during the silent period, editing was thought to be akin to knitting (thus ideal for women); as sound was introduced, it became a technical skill (thus ideal for men). So, not only does the director-editor relationship imply some fundamental aspect of female-ness vs. male-ness, but the historical employment of women in post-production (according to the documentary, the majority of editors were women prior to talkies) implies something fundamental about gender and technological aptitude. This stereotype persists even today if one were to analyze the statics in fields such as IT, engineering, etc.

    Now, for the chicken-egg question: does the (false, but pervasive) idea that women are less suited to technologically-heavy work exist because of some exclusionary practices in those fields, or because women are socially programmed to not seek out or develop those types of skills?

    As a slight counter-balance, of course, we must not forget about some of the other prolific female editors working today: Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne Coates, Dede Allen, Susan Morse...I wonder now, do stats exist like the one you quoted from the DGA on working-hours of ACE editors?


    P.S. This assignment idea is awesome. :-)

  3. Great blog Ruth! I can't wait to read more.

  4. Kris -

    I actually tried to look up stats on the demographics of women in the editing guild, but could not find any that are easily accessible on the web. I am horribly curious though if anyone knows what the demographic breakdown of the editing guild is...

    - Ruth