I’m not denying that it was sweet and charming that Jackie Chan got an honorary Oscar. That’s great. But overlooked in the fuss made over him is the fact that Anne V. Coates, whose only competitive Oscar was for Lawrence of Arabia and who has worked on some fifty other films of varying qualities over the years, was an equally deserving recipient. Not as flashy. Considerably less kicking people in the face. But still.
It’s interesting to me how often, when we are looking at women working behind the scenes, editors are suggested. She’s the second one we’ve done—Thelma Schoonmaker is still waiting for her honorary award, Academy! There’s at least one more on the list. It’s not a field that’s easy for women to excel in, but it’s a field that’s always had plenty of women in it. After all, editing used to be a lot harder, back when everyone used film and you had to cut the celluloid by hand.
Coates, I believe, goes back to the days when editing was still women’s work. Variety put her in a category with a number of greats, women who edited for Griffith and Ford and other major directors. Her work, and the work of these other women, has shaped Hollywood—and, likely, world cinema by osmosis—in a number of powerful ways. I think editing is something more people notice when it’s done badly, and so arguably these women have had a job that required invisibility. And they succeeded only too well.
Currently, eighty percent of films have no women working on their editing teams at all. It’s no longer women’s work. However, Coates is now working with Soderbergh, who has made more claims about retiring than she has. Her vision has shaped blockbusters (Masters of the Universe, which was at least intended to be a blockbuster, and Fifty Shades of Grey) and more arthouse fare (Lady Jane and The Elephant Man). And, yes, Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia, possibly the best-known film she’s worked on, or at least the one with the greatest legacy.
It’s harder, I think, to talk about editors, because their work is by definition so connected to all the other work on a film. They can only work with what they’ve got; a bad cinematographer and director can sink a good editor faster, I believe, than the other way around. I had to explain to Graham once why there even is an Oscar for editing, because he didn’t understand its intricacies. I’ll admit it’s been long enough since I’ve seen an Anne V. Coates movie that I can’t speak to anything specific about her work, though I do own two of them and want a few others. (And, no, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t on either list.) However, you have to admire a woman who won an Oscar in 1962 and is still working today, doing good enough work to be given an honorary one as well.