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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

which underappreciated women in film — both in front of and behind the camera — deserve a shoutout?


This week’s Question comes from Matt, who writes:

It seems like more women are hitting it big in some movie fields like film editors and cinematographers than the directors, composers and writers.

Maybe have a thread where such personnel deserve a shout-out, like the late Shirley Walker (composer) and Dede Allen (editor). Those two especially deserve attention for their contributions to film and TV.

I’m a big movie fan, as you might imagine, but even I would have trouble naming most people working behind the camera who aren’t writers or directors… so I suspect that plenty of others of you would have the same trouble. (Pictured here is Thelma Schoonmaker, one of the few film editors I’m aware of, not because she’s a woman but because she’s Martin Scorsese’s longtime collaborator. She’s not exactly underappreciated, though.) So we’ll open up the question a little:

Which underappreciated women in film — both in front of and behind the camera — deserve a shoutout? And perhaps there’s some discussion to be had in Matt’s thesis: Are more women are hitting it big in areas other than directing and writing?

Laud away.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

  • Karl Morton IV

    Shirley Walker was SO cool! Truly one of a kind, so say all who knew her, as far as not only her talent but what a wonderful, supportive, lovely person she was. We lost her too soon, unfortunately, but Lalaland Records is doing more than their part to immortalize her music for us greedy consumers. Her music for “Batman” is loads of fun but her scores for “Willard” and “Turbulence” amply demonstrate her abilities as well. Then there’s “Space: Above and Beyond” and “The Flash” and on and on.

    While we’re talking about composers, are you aware of Debbie Wiseman? She’s writing music for “Father Brown” at the moment but she’s got all manner of score under her belt, and quite a few released on CD as well. I’d put her on the same level as Walker, easily, but Wiseman has been lucky enough to be asked to write music for a wider variety of project.

    I haven’t heard anything from her for years but a woman called Ilona Sekacz wrote some lovely tunes for “Mrs. Dalloway” and “Antonia’s Line”. I remember seeing one single solitary picture of her that looked like it was taking while scoring sessions were happening – she’s got this delightful grin all over her face and she seems to be juggling a couple reams of score. Apart from a few bits and pieces, I haven’t been able to unearth any music of hers newer than at least a decade. :(

    Not long ago I reacquainted myself with the great Elisabeth Lutyens – “12 Tone Lizzie” to her friends (maybe?). She had to attend to her composing ambitions while supporting a waste-of-space of a husband and raising a gaggles of kids but somehow she found time to twist Schoenberg’s formal theories to her will, creating her own approach to modern music writing which she applied to numerous film scores (lots of horror for Hammer and their competitors) as well as choral pieces, chamber works, operas, and larger scale stuff, most of which she never heard performed in her lifetime.

    I could go on all night along these lines, actually.

  • althea

    Please do.

  • Karl Morton IV

    My friends would advise you not to encourage me!

    As an example, maybe an exception that proves the rule that women don’t get their due in Hollywood, look up Margaret Booth. She began editing stuff for D.W. Griffith waaaaaayyyyyy back in the day head of the editing department at MGM. She had final word on everything that passed through that studio – directors were fired on her say-so if they weren’t shooting coverage to her specifications. She butted heads with John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, and numerous others and won more often than not. I would suggest that she messed up more than a few movies by shoehorning them into the MGM house style, but that was her job and she did it better than anyone else in her position. She died at the ripe old age of 104 in 2002. Late in life she was interviewed for all those “history of MGM” documentaries that filled TNT during the ’90s – even in her 80s and 90s she was clearly a force to be reckoned with.

  • Karl Morton IV

    Good Lord, I really need to start proof-reading! Booth began with Griffith and *ended up head of editorial at MGM*.

  • Matt Clayton

    I agree on Debbie Wiseman too. Her scores for “Flood” and “Arsene Lupin” were excellent — and while I’m glad she’s getting work in the UK, she surely deserves to break out internationally.

    Lisa Lassek co-edited Marvel’s The Avengers, which felt perfectly paced from start to finish. And Marcia Lucas co-edited her ex-husband’s greatest film, Star Wars.

  • Danielm80

    Catherine Martin was the one person who made Moulin Rouge! watchable, and she gets less credit than most of the other people involved with the movie. Actually, most of the other members of the design team were female as well.

  • MisterAntrobus

    Lucas also edited Taxi Driver.

  • Jay Pausner

    I have a soft spot for Carol Spier who has worked as Production Designer since the 1970s. She’s best known, if she’s recognized at all, for her work as PD for many of David Cronenberg’s films. My favourite of her work is she did for Naked Lunch. She recreated a fantastical Tangiers within Toronto and on set. She helped blur the line between the real-world and fantasy in that film.

    So a shoutout to her for going almost un-appreciated except by those that she works with.

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