A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away: My Fifty Years Editing Hollywood Hits―Star Wars, Carrie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Mission: Impossible, and More
FFC rating: 8/10
by Paul Hirsch
by Bill Chambers "You know what's a great cut?" I said to the editor of my student film--or he said to me, I can't remember now. Conversations frequently began this way in our cluttered editing room, a glorified broom closet we'd decorated with, among other things, a life-size cardboard cutout of Mr. Spock and the poster for Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron. Anyway, the answer to that rhetorical question was the opening of Casualties of War: a stark cut from black to a shot inside a subway car, where Michael J. Fox, the movie's star, is Where's Waldo?-ed amongst the passengers. The other person enthusiastically concurred; it was an incredible bonding moment between us, realizing we'd each recognized the power of this relatively obscure and deceptively simple moment. Since Paul Hirsch had edited so many Brian De Palma films, including his then-recent Mission: Impossible, we assumed it was his handiwork. (Smart-phone technology for checking these things instantly did not yet exist.) A different De Palma veteran, Bill Pankow, cut Casualties of War, as it turned out, but our misapprehension sparked a discussion of the legitimate work of Paul Hirsch, who soon became the patron saint of Casa Spock. Hirsch had edited the kinds of films us Gen-X cinephiles internalized like radio hits, and even though we were cutting a dopey little student film, we aspired to his rhythmic grace, which remains somewhat overshadowed by sheer popularity when it comes to his biggest credits (Star Wars, Footloose, Planes, Trains & Automobiles).