Film Editors Remember "Inspirational" Trailblazer Anne V. Coates

The 'Lawrence of Arabia' editor died Tuesday at age 92.
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Anne V. Coates

Anne V. Coates — the legendary film editor behind 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia, for which she earned an Oscar, and countless other titles during a career that spanned six decades — belongs on the "Mount Rushmore of editing," in the words of film editor Michael Tronick, a vice president on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors.

He and countless film editors remembered Coates, who died Tuesday at the age of 92. In fact, they flooded their Facebook pages with photos and remembrances of Coates, a remarkable talent and yet humble artist with a great wit.

On David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, the British-born editor created an epic classic, which also contains what is widely considered the most famous "match cut" in the history of cinema — a cut from Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence blowing out a match to the sun rising on the desert. It was a bold decision at a time when a more traditional edit would have called for a dissolve.

Coates went on to receive additional Oscar nominations for films as varied as Peter Glenville's Becket (1964), David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), Wolfgang Petersen's In the Line of Fire (1993) and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1988). She received an honorary Academy Award at the 2016 Governors Awards.

“Anne Coates was a consummate artist and a brilliant editor. She was motion picture royalty, yet she was imbued with a great humility," said AMPAS Board of Governors member Mark Goldblatt, an Academy Award-nominated editor for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. "Her lust for life and great sense of humor was infectious and kept her forever young. She touched all of us who were lucky enough to know her.”

Coates was also a pioneering woman in a field that has been more populated by females than many other filmmaking crafts. But in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Coates admitted that she "always thought of myself as an editor, not a woman."

Author Bobbie O'Steen, who has written several books on film editing, said: "Anne Coates had groundbreaking success as a woman, but she didn’t see herself in terms of gender; she just assumed she could hold her own — and she did. She trusted her great instincts and gifts as an editor. But she was also simply lovely and charming — with a devilish wit. I feel so fortunate to have known her."

Editor Joan Sobel, whose recent work includes Nocturnal Animals, said of Coates' passing: "Very sad. A great editor. Nothing will top Lawrence of Arabia for sheer editorial brilliance. And Anne's editing of Out of Sight is as original and fresh and stunning as when I first saw it."

Said Stephen Rivkin, president of American Cinema Editors and an Oscar nominee for Avatar: "Anne was a wonderful woman and an enormously talented editor. Throughout her incredible career, her bold innovation and unique artistry on many great films inspired a generation of editors to follow. Anne’s groundbreaking technique and style will forever impact the future of cinema editing. We will miss her dearly."

Talking with THR in 2016, Coates said Lean taught her to have the courage of your convictions. "I was a little nervous putting forth ideas. But he said, 'If you got an idea, Annie, I want to hear it.' He taught me to hold onto shots. In Lawrence, we do hold onto shots for quite a long time, and I'm not sure without David encouraging me I would have done that. And I think I helped him in a way because the French films were being cut in a rather different way at the time, the nouvelle vague. David had never seen that, and I suggested he go to the cinema and have a look, and of course he loved it — and then he did it better."

Coates also demonstrated that courage of her convictions outside the editing room. “She was never lacking in taking a stance. She would see things clearly and insightfully and always had a sense of humor as well,” said Tronick, adding that he enjoyed quality time with Coates when they both served on the Academy Board of Governors. “I had the good fortune to pick her up for board meetings and we’d talk. I was with an idol and she made me feel comfortable. Spending time with Anne was truly a highlight of my career.”

He added that Coates was "always innovative" and “so passionate about her art and always made character and story top priority." As Tronick summed it up, “She was a wonderful woman with a great heart and unending talent and humility.”

Underscoring how many who met Coates were star-struck in her presence, ACE executive director Jenni McCormick shared on Facebook a clip from the 2012 ACE Eddie Awards, during which host Patton Oswalt introduced her by admitting, "I have never been more nervous to meet a human being." A lengthy standing ovation followed as Coates took the stage to present a Student Award.