Book Review: “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away”

  • A LONG TIME AGO IN A CUTTING ROOM FAR, FAR AWAY
  • Author:  Paul Hirsch
  • Hardcover
  • 384 pages
  • Published by Chicago Review Press Fo

A few years ago I had the pleasure of hosting a test screening for director John Hancock’s film, “The Looking Glass.”  After the film, as I drove John, his wife Dorothy Tristan (the film’s star and co-writer) and film editor Dennis O’Connor back to their hotel, I was amazed by the conversation between the director and editor.  They discussed certain scenes in the film, curious whether they had gone a beat too long or perhaps not long enough.  What impressed me the most was that even the suggestion of removing ONE FRAME of film – 1/24th of a second – could have a true impact in how the film was presented.

Armed with this very limited knowledge, I was eager to read the new book “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away,” written by Academy Award winning film editor Paul Hirsch.  Where to begin?

The book is a rare inside glimpse into the careers, and minds, of three of the most acclaimed filmmakers of their time:  Brian De Palma, George Lucas and John Hughes. 

Mr. Hirsch got his start with De Palma, editing the director’s first five features, including “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Obsession” and “Carrie.”  It is while editing “Carrie” that he is shown photographs from a currently-in-production space opera called “Star Wars.”  Impressed with what he’s seen, Mr. Hirsch secretly wishes he could work on “Star Wars.”  His wish is granted when Lucas invites him to help edit the film alongside co-editors Marcia Lucas (George’s wife) and Richard Chew.  Soon Mr. Hirsch realizes it’s just him on the project and his stories about the finalization of the film, right down to the color of Darth Vader’s light sabre, are amazing. For his work on “Star Wars,” Mr. Hirsch, Mr. Chew and Ms. Lucas were awarded the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

The book is written in a very simple style.  Not a lot of technical jargon, just great stories told to you as if Mr. Hirsch was sharing them over dinner.  There are many chapters devoted solely to one film, including “Carrie” (we learn about De Palma’s love for the split-screen), “Star Wars,” “The Fury,” “Blow Out,” “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Ray” and so many more.  A veritable journey down the Yellow Brick Road to revisit some of the most popular and influential films of the past four decades.

If you’ve always wondered about how a film is put together, or just want to learn some behind the scenes secrets of your favorite films, then this is the book for you!  You can order “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away,” which will be released on November 5th, by clicking HERE.   

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