Saturday 23 February 2019

Martin Scorsese’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker honoured with Bafta Fellowship

She has cut 23 of his films over her 50-year career.

Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese (Sean Dempsey/PA)
Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese (Sean Dempsey/PA)

By Laura Harding, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

The acclaimed film editor Thelma Schoonmaker has been honoured with the Bafta Fellowship for a career that has spanned more than 50 years.

The three-time Oscar winner, hailed as “the queen of the cutting room”, has made 23 films with Martin Scorsese, winning statues for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed.

She has been nominated for nine Baftas in that time, for The King Of Comedy, Cape Fear, Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo and The Wolf Of Wall Street, winning the editing prize in 1982 for Raging Bull and Goodfellas in 1991.

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Thelma Schoonmaker with her Oscar for The Aviator (Ian West/PA)

She has edited every single feature film directed by Scorsese since Raging Bull, including his upcoming Netflix project The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

The Duke of Cambridge and Cate Blanchett introduced her at the award ceremony held at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Before taking to the stage, Scorsese, paid tribute to her in a video clip.

He said: “For me the editing process of a film is my favourite and a lot of it has to do with the time I spend working with Thelma together. We live through every film together and every film is a whole lifetime in and of itself…”

Schoonmaker referenced what she said was an “astonishing” performance by Blanchett in Scorsese’s 2004 film The Aviator, for which she won an Oscar for her performance as Katharine Hepburn.

I think some of my fellow editors might like to take out a contract on my life to bump me off so they can get this wonderful job Thelma Schoonmaker

The editor said: “I will never forget seeing the uncut footage of Cate… everyone on the set was so stunned by her performance that Scorsese never called out cut. I have the best job in the world and I wish I could parcel up the all the pieces of luck I’ve had over the years to give aspiring film makers”.

She joked: “I think some of my fellow editors might like to take out a contract on my life to bump me off so they can get this wonderful job.

“I’ve worked on 23 wonderful films with Scorsese. He thinks like an editor…I think some of you know how lucky I am to be given footage that is created that way. We cut his films together, I think without a doubt every great director has a strong sense of editing so it is very precious to me that you are honouring my craft tonight”.

She also referenced her late husband, the filmmaker Michael Powell and collaborative partner, Emeric Pressburger and revealed how Scorsese had introduced her to their work.

She said: “Marty introduced me to Michael Powell not expecting we would fall in love and marry, but we did, and this gave me the happiest 10 years of my life. How much more could one want in one life, the best job in the world and the best husband in the world?”

Born in Algiers in 1940, Schoonmaker moved to the United States as a teenager and got her first job in the film industry when she responded to an advertisement in The New York Times for a trainee assistant film editor.

She met Scorsese when she signed up for a six-week course in film-making at New York University and a professor asked if she could help him salvage the badly mangled negative of his student film What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?

In 1967 she helped him edit his first feature film Who’s That Knocking At My Door, marking the beginning of their fruitful partnership.

She earned her first Oscar nomination for best editing in 1971 for Michael Wadleigh’s influential music documentary Woodstock but was plagued by issues with the Motion Picture Editors Guild in Los Angeles, meaning she was unable to work in Los Angeles.

As a result there was a 12-year gap between her early work with Scorsese, until Raging Bull’s producer Irwin Winkler resolved the Guild issue so she could edit the film.

Schoonmaker was married to British filmmaker Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990 and has since worked tirelessly with Scorsese to preserve his films, made with Pressburger.

The Fellowship is the highest honour bestowed by Bafta and previous recipients include Scorsese and Powell and Pressburger, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Ken Loach, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench.

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