Renee Lichtig, film editor, 86

Cutter collaborated closely with von Stroheim

Renee Lichtig, a film editor and restorer who was Jean Renoir’s head cutter on his late works and who collaborated closely with Erich von Stroheim on the director’s cut of “The Wedding March,” died in Paris Oct.16 following a stroke.

She was 86.

Lichtig’s modest family was intimately involved in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, despite cinema-related tragedy. She was born in Shanghai where her father bought her a Pathe Baby projector and introduced her to prints of Charlie Chaplin films.

When the family returned to France, her father Arnold, intrigued by the birth of synchronized sound, worked on Gaumont newsreels with pioneering female director Germaine Dulac. When Lichtig was 10, her father died from third degree burns suffered when a fire broke out in an editing room.

Her half-sister Lucie, who died in 1999, was a linguistically gifted continuity director who worked with the cream of American and European directors, including Max Ophuls, Nicholas Ray, John Huston, Joseph Mankiewicz and Jules Dassin. 

Unable to join the ranks of women helmers, Renee turned to film editing and also became France’s first female timer.

In the wake of Lotte Eisner, Mary Meerson and Marie Epstein, Lichtig was the last surviving close female collaborator of Cinematheque Francaise founder Henri Langlois, whose post-war screenings she frequented beside the future members of what would become the French New Wave. 

Lichtig arranged for Langlois to use on weekends the commercial editing rooms where she worked during the week. Lichtig was extremely active in the Cinematheque’s restoration department for years following Langlois’ death in 1977, conserving and restoring hundreds of films between 1978 and 1993.

She was instrumental in restoring Alexandre Volkov’s florid 1927 “Casanova” starring Ivan Mosjoukine. In 1954, Lichtig and Von Stroheim completed the gargantuan task of synchronizing the director’s silent film, “The Wedding March,” to recordings made in 1927.

Thinking the original negative was lost, Jean Renoir had drafted Lichtig to reassemble “The Grand Illusion” from existing prints. ( As luck would have it, the negative, which had been stolen from France by the Nazis and ended up in the Soviet Union after the war, had been returned to the Toulouse Cinematheque by the Russians.)

Lichtig edited Renoir’s last three films: “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe,” “Le testament du docteur Cordelier” and “Le caporal epingle.” Lichtig’s reworking of the initial restoration of Jean Epstein’s 1924 “Coeur fidele” inspired Epstein’s sister Marie, a filmmaking pioneer in her own right, to say “Renee doesn’t restore films — she resuscitates them.”

Forced to leave the Cinematheque in 1993, Lichtig was an honorary member for life of the board of directors.