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Lawrence Silk, the preeminent documentary editor who worked on Pumping Iron, Woody Allen’s Wild Man Blues and three films that won Academy Awards, has died. He was 86.
Silk, who received the American Cinema Editors’ Career Achievement Award in 2013, died Sunday at a hospital in Springfield, Mass., his son, Dan, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Wild Man Blues (1997) profiled clarinetist Allen and his seven-piece New Orleans jazz band as they toured Europe in 1996. Directed by two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, the documentary also is notable for providing an intimate look into Allen’s life with his soon-to-be wife, Soon-Yi Previn, and his elderly parents.
Silk and Kopple also collaborated on the Oscar-winning American Dream (1990), about a strike by meatpacking workers at a Hormel Foods plant in Minnesota (Silk also co-directed); on Toots (2006), about famed New York restaurateur Toots Shor; on Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson (1993); and on the 2002 ABC miniseries The Hamptons.
Silk also edited Marjoe (1972), about hippie evangelist Marjoe Gortner, who became a preacher at age 4, and the Holocaust survivor tale One Survivor Remembers (1995). Both those films received documentary Oscars as well.
Pumping Iron (1977), the landmark look at body building, launched the movie career of Arnold Schwarzenegger and also featured future Hulk star Lou Ferrigno.
Silk’s impressive résumé over a half-century also includes Johnny Cash! The Man, His World, His Music (1969), which followed the country music legend on tour, was filmed without any narration and played in movie theaters across the country.
Working without a script, Silk was renown for uncovering the story in the footage.
“Every cut is a disturbance of reality, so the trick is to cut artfully so the cut gives you more than the disturbance it creates,” he said in Megan Cunningham’s book The Art of the Documentary: Fifteen Conversations With Leading Directors.
Born in Detroit, Silk attended the New York World’s Fair as a 9-year-old and found himself mesmerized by a screening of The River (1938), a federally funded documentary by Pare Lorentz that showed the devastating impact of a Mississippi flood.
After hitchhiking back and forth across the U.S., Silk landed in New York and studied editing at City College of New York under Carl Lerner (12 Angry Men, Klute, Requiem for a Heavyweight).
He then served as an assistant editor on the educational TV program Omnibus and on the 1960 civil rights documentary Sit-In, part of the NBC White Paper series.
Also in the ‘60s, Silk edited CBS’ The Twentieth Century, hosted by Walter Cronkite, and the ABC miniseries F.D.R., narrated by Charlton Heston. He later worked on the 1971 Larry Peerce movie The Sporting Club and episodes of the 1980s CBS drama The Equalizer.
Silk also taught editing at NYU in the 1970s.
In his final week, Silk “heard over and over from his colleagues, some of them his former assistants, who wanted to make sure he knew how enormously grateful they were for the support, love and empowerment he’d offered them,” Dan Silk wrote on Facebook. “Dad was genuinely surprised every single time.”
Survivors also include his wife of almost 44 years, Betty, and his brother Bob.
Scott Feinberg and Carolyn Giardina contributed to this report.
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