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Snarky's Cinemachine: Dede Allen, The Coolest Woman in Film You've Never Heard Of!


The genesis of my cinema love affair can be traced to two films: The Wiz and Serpico, both directed by Sidney Lumet (father of Jenny and Amy Lumet and son-in-law of the incomparable Miss Lena Horne) Despite being two decidedly different films, they share a lineage and many visual stylistic elements, which tends to make a double-feature of them oddly harmonious.

Like most black folks – at least in my fantagical version of the black folk narrative (said in a Booming Earl Jones voice), when really it's probably just my sister and me – I came to know of Lumet through The Wiz and the giddy seven year old in me still gleefully mispronounces his name "LUM ET" instead of "LOO-MET" the correct pronunciation. We used to chant "LUM ET LUM ET" while watching the opening credits of The Wiz and tossing Cabby (my sister's Cabbage Patch Kid) in the air.

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I feel geeky admitting that each major crew member of The Wiz had a corresponding Cabbage Patch Doll, imaginary friend or personal effect named in their honor. My typewriter was named "Joel Schumacher", my Fisher-Price record player, "Quincy-Vandross," (of course!), and my Fisher-Price camera was named after trailblazing film editor and personal bad ass chick hero: "Dede Allen". Allen died this past April, leaving a legacy of iconic film imagery and countless imitators. Everyone draws influence from Allen, whose resume boasts the following films:



Allen was influenced by French New Wave cinema greats such as Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, and introduced elements of their film-making aesthetic to American cinema, encouraged by her mentor, Robert Wise (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) to do so. Allen favored film editing stylistic choices audiences take for granted now: jump cuts and overlapping audio:

Urged by Robert Wise to experiment, Allen developed one of her major techniques: the audio shift. Instead of stopping both a shot and its accompanying audio at the same time (the common practice), she would overlap sound from the beginning of the next shot into the end of the previous shot (or vice versa). The overall effect increased the pace of the film—something always happened, visually or aurally, in a staccato-like tempo.

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Allen was deliberate in her editing, but never precious. Her filmography, specifically her longtime collaboration with Sidney Lumet, exemplifies technical mastery and oddly enough–restraint. Unfortunately, for the most part, the industry never saw fit to properly reward her contributions to the cinematic discourse, instead opting to reward her countless imitators. Over the course of her distinguished fifty year career, Allen was nominated only three times for Oscars: 1976's Dog Day Afternoon, 1981's Reds and 2001's Wonder Boys. For an editor whose body of work includes: The Hustler, Bonnie and Clyde (legendary specifically due to editing) and Serpico, this seems criminal. But for a female film editor, it is sadly unsurprising.

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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Long live Dede Allen

Yay! I too miss Dede Allen and hope more people learn about her life and work posthumously. Also, I love knowing that you named your typewriter Joel Schumacher. ;)

Alyx Vesey

I really hope there are more

I really hope there are more examinations of her influential work. A documentary of her life is much needed. I don't even think she was mentioned much in film editing documentary I watched a couple of weeks back. It wasn't particularly good, which is probably why I'm blanking on the name.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Jump-cuts

Now I understand why Slaughterhouse-Five seemed so unsettling to me when I first saw it... her editing style, which perfectly fit the jumping-in-time nature of the story, hadn't been appropriated in the U.S. yet. Thank you Snarky's for giving Dede a little more well-deserved recognition.

You're welcome. I am a huge

You're welcome. I am a huge fangirl of her work and hopefully, my piece will encourage others to read about her life.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.