Issue 131 – Beyond the Cutting Room

Mary Sweeney working on 'Tender Mercies' in New York, 1982. Photo by Norman Buckley

Mary Sweeney, long-time editor and collaborator with David Lynch, talks about the transition to directing with her first feature Baraboo.

This photo of me was taken in 1982, in the New York cutting rooms of Tender Mercies. I had recently survived several months as a sound apprentice on Reds, a boot camp of a New York editorial job, under the magnificent Dede Allen. As a sound apprentice I was buried on an entirely different floor from the revered Picture Department, in a bin-filled, windowless room I shared with four other apprentice sound editors. We reconstituted trims, ran out for cigarettes, labelled thousands of reels, made coffee and reconstituted more trims. On the rare errand to the Picture Department, I might catch a glimpse of Dede through a cracked door, hunched over her upright Moviola, trims flying, assistants hovering, a magician over a cauldron. Her complete focus, intensity and dedication to the alchemy of her commanding art was an inspiration – no, more than that – a drug I was dying for a shot of. That will and desire is what reaches out to me through time in my regard in this photo. The details in this image leave me nostalgic for the delicious mechanics of the film cutting room; the squawk box, synchronizer, rewinds, Goldberg reels and 35 mm film! I’m left nostalgic also for the labour-intensive camaraderie of those days.

Best-kept secret
Editing was, for decades, the best-kept secret power base in the filmmaking process. No sexy stars, no lights, camera, action; just a darkened room with one or two creative people massaging all that was in the can into mobile, musical, magical works of visual art. Directors and editors were forgotten in those dark rooms, left with the luxury of time to consider, to explore, experiment, reject and try something else with the available material.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


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