Each November in Poland, the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival, which casts a spotlight on the art and science of cinematography, celebrates an editor with the Unique Visual Sensitivity award. This year’s honoree is Carol Littleton.
Littleton is known for her prolific catalog of work with directors like Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan on film such as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Big Chill” — but the project she cherishes the most is Robert Benton’s “Places in the Heart,” the film that won Sally Field the second of her two Oscars.
“I grew up in rural Oklahoma,” Littleton says. “The sort of family life, the sense of values and the extraordinary strength of [the characters in ‘Heart’] reminded me of my childhood. I grew up with those people, so it has a real personal resonance for me.”
It’s often assumed that editing is mostly about shaping the actors’ performances, but Littleton notes her most important focus is on the images themselves. “Editors [must be] very sensitive of the visual language that the director and cinematographer choose for the film, because we are the first interpreters of that when it comes to putting everything together,” she says.
Littleton came up through the Hollywood ranks in the late 1960s and ’70s even though it wasn’t her intention to work in film, having graduated with an MA in literature. In 1963, she traveled to Europe as a student and visited a Renaissance art exhibit in Florence. There she met cinematographer John Bailey, current president of the Motion Picture Academy. The two married not long after and moved to Hollywood. It was fate that introduced her to the business, but her passion for it has kept her there.
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“I was a novice in learning about visual arts at the time,” she says, “but I have to admit, if I had not met John, I would not have had a career in film. We’ve worked in different disciplines, and they’ve informed each other greatly over the years, proving a wonderful partnership.”
In the early days, Littleton took odd industry jobs around town, eventually apprenticing at a small film facility called Einfeld Prods. “The owner, Richard Einfeld, was a very fine editor,” she recalls, “and he taught me; it was one-on-one. From that point on, I gravitated toward editing.”
She also found a great working relationship in Kasdan. He sought out Littleton specifically because he wanted to have a female perspective on making the sexual scenes in “Body Heat” more suggestive and less explicit.
“Larry just liked the way that I responded to the script,” she says. “I saw the humor as well as the drama, and since then we’ve done  movies together.”
Littleton says she didn’t think much about the gender differences when it came to often being the only woman in the room. Perhaps, too, it’s the solitary work of editors that left her out of the spotlight — just as so many women in other disciplines were — within a patriarchal industry.
This week, Camerimage notices.