The Woman Behind the Man: Thelma Schoonmaker

Yesterday in my film production class, my professor talked extensively about the editing techniques used in Raging Bull, along with showing many clips from that film… but without ever mentioning editor Thelma Schoonmaker by name. Naturally, when students talked about the editing, they used male pronouns to talk about what the editor did. The assumption is that editors, like directors and cinematographers, are usually male.

Thelma Schoonmaker is an important film editor; she worked on so many highly regarded films from Scorsese’s oeuvre, including Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York and The Departed. Any discussion of Scorsese’s evolution over the decades would have to involve at least a passing mention of Schoonmaker’s contribution to his craft.

This is the scene my class studied more than any other: the Sugar Ray Robinson fight in Raging Bull. While the cinematography does accomplish a lot of the scene’s impact, the editing is also key.

Schoonmaker’s talent was obvious from the moment she worked on Scorsese’s first feature, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, in 1967. This is the famous sex scene montage set to the Doors’ “The End,” which is a great example of how to use music in film effectively. From the outset Scorsese knew what types of songs would work well in a cinematic context. The clip’s resolution isn’t terrific, but you’ll get the idea.

The 1991 remake of Cape Fear also has excellent editing by Schoonmaker. This scene in particular comes to mind (though you might not want to watch it if you haven’t seen the film… or if you have a weak stomach). Schoonmaker knew how to build suspense by cutting in the right places.

I think it would have behooved my professor to name the woman who has obviously been such an inspiration to her and to countless other professors, students and film fans.

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One thought on “The Woman Behind the Man: Thelma Schoonmaker

  1. Pingback: You Should Know: Thirteen Pioneering Female Film Editors | The Iron Cupcake

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