Anne V. Coates, Oscar-Winning Film Editor for ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ Dies at 92

Anne V Coates Dead Editor
Brian Ritchie/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock

English-born film editor Anne V. Coates, who won an Academy Award for cutting David Lean’s classic “Lawrence of Arabia,” has died. She was 92.

Coates died on Tuesday in Woodland Hills, Calif. BAFTA tweeted the news of her death, writing, “We’re so sad to learn that British film editor Anne V. Coates has died. During her incredible career, Anne was BAFTA-nominated four times for work including ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Erin Brockovich,’ and received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2007. She will be greatly missed.”

She earned that Oscar for the 1962 film: In addition to its impressive balance of imposing desert landscapes and vivid human drama (culled from some 31 miles of footage), the nearly four-hour epic contains one of the most famous “match” cuts in movie history, from a shot of Peter O’Toole blowing out a match to a majestic desert sunrise.

Coates went on to receive four more Academy Award nominations, for editing Peter Glenville’s “Becket” (1964), David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” (1980), Wolfgang Petersen’s “In the Line of Fire” (1993) and Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1998).

Her other credits include “Young Cassidy” (1965), “The Bofors Gun” (1968), “The Public Eye” (1972), “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974), “What About Bob?” (1991), “Chaplin” (1992), “Congo” (1995), “Striptease” (1996) and Soderbergh’s “Erin Brockovich” (2000).

Her more recent credits include “The Golden Compass” (2007), “Extraordinary Measures” (2010) and 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” for which she was credited alongside Lisa Gunning and Debra-Neil Fisher.

“I don’t think I was particularly influenced in the abstract by many directors or editors, though there are some I greatly admire,” she told TCM in a 2015 interview. “But of course David Lean, his early editor Jack Harris and Michael Powell and his editor Reggie Mills had a huge direct influence on me.”

In a 2001 profile of then-president of the American Cinema Editors (ACE) Tina Hirsch, Variety declared, “Indeed, many of the editorial greats have been women: Dede Allen, Verna Fields, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates and Dorothy Spencer.”

Coates told TCM: “I think winning for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ helped me to get offered more interesting films, but in fact I was offered ‘Becket’ by Hal Wallis before we had finished shooting. It was after he saw a few cut scenes with Peter O’Toole for casting.”

In addition to “Lawrence of Arabia,” cutting “The Elephant Man” proved quite a challenge “because (uncredited executive producer) Mel Brooks wanted to cut the film in such a way that you didn’t see the Elephant Man’s natural face until the nurse brought his food when in fact several scenes had been shot showing it, so I had to cut round these scenes,” Coates said in the TCM interview.

The editor spoke to TCM about how much she enjoyed working on the Clint Eastwood film “In the Line of Fire” and how excited she was to be working with director Wolfgang Petersen. “Also it was a wonderful script. I think it was the relationship between the men, ‘the goodie’ Clint Eastwood and the ‘baddie’ John Malkovich that appealed to me the most, the great cat and mouse phone calls they had. Also we did some very interesting special f/x work; I think we were amongst the first people to put an actor from another film in a scene in our film, i.e., Clint Eastwood from ‘Dirty Harry’ in between President and Mrs. Kennedy at Love Field (we had to first lose his sideburns and change his collar and tie). Also we replaced President Bush with our president — sometimes just his head! I got to know a great deal about the Secret Service during the film.”

The transition to digital wasn’t easy for Coates. “The first film I did digitally was ‘Congo,’ and Frank Marshall had my crew and me trained. We had private teachers, but we were really the blind leading the blind, and it was an extremely difficult picture. So I ran screaming and kicking to digital,” she admitted to sound design and film editing legend Walter Murch, who engaged Coates in a wide-ranging interview in 2000 that’s posted to the website FilmSound.org. “You know, you cut it from the inside out when you’re working on a Moviola, and you cut from the outside in when you’re doing it digitally — because it’s up there and you cut it, and then you start molding more. With a Moviola, you kind of mold as you do it.”

Coates served as a producer a single time, on Jack Gold’s 1978 sci-fi horror film “The Medusa Touch,” starring Richard Burton. “Jack Gold found the book of ‘Medusa Touch’ and asked me if I would like to produce it with him, so we set it up together,” she told TCM. “There were certain things I enjoyed about producing, especially in the early stages — i.e., working on the script, casting, location hunting. But editing, which is more hands on, is my first love.”

Anne Voase Coates was born in Reigate, Surrey. As a child she loved not movies but horses; she thought she might grow up to train race horses. With the introduction to classic literature that comes as one progresses through school, however, she changed her focus.

“When my parents divorced, my father used to take us to the cinema for his treat. I remember seeing films like ‘Lost Horizon,’ which I thought was magic; ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights.’ I fell madly in love with Laurence Olivier. When I saw the magic on the screen, what it could do, it suddenly came alive to me,” she told Murch.

She aimed to become a director; with that goal in mind, she took a job with a company called Religious Films, a non-union house. Coates began her career splicing together religious short films for church tours; she had received the job with the help of her uncle, the film producer and entrepreneur J. Arthur Rank, who hoped that she would lose interest in the industry. But the credits she earned at Religious Films allowed her to join the union, and she was soon working as a second assistant film editor at Pinewood Studios.

Murch characterized Coates as “a self-described intuitive editor.”

“The first film I did,” she told Murch, “was for Michael Powell, who was making ‘The Red Shoes’ at the same time.” (The film was 1947’s “The End of the River.”) “Reggie Mills, who was his top editor, took the picture over to recut it. Reggie Mills didn’t want the first assistant to go up with the film, so I went up. And he was wonderful. I mean, he never actually taught me anything as such, but watching him and the discipline were so good for me. And, you know, he never spoke. I just used to hand him the trims and ask for the trims. Then I got into working on ‘The Red Shoes’ for a little bit, helping out on that, and was able to go on the set to watch, so it was an interesting time.

“One of the reasons I chose to go into the editing room,” she told TCM, “was that I wanted to become a director, and that seemed the best place to learn. Later on I had several chances to direct, including an agent who wanted to promote me, but by that time I was married to a director and had three children, so I thought it was too difficult to give quality time to two such demanding lives.”

Coates received her first editing credit on Noel Langley’s Dickens adaptation “The Pickwick Papers” (1952). “I was young and enthusiastic, and any chance that came my way, I would grab,” she told Variety of the experience in 2015. “I don’t think I was doing that well, but then I cut a courtroom scene — courtroom scenes are very fun to cut — and I did a really good job on that. They were all so impressed, from then on, I was in. Simple as that.”

“When I first came into the industry in England,” she told Murch, “there were quite a lot of women editors. And then slowly they fell by the wayside. They didn’t seem to have the ambition, which I always thought was strange. When I left in 1986, I think there was only one other woman doing big features in England. But I was taught, or I must have heard it somewhere, that as it became a more important job, men started to get in on it. While it was just a background job, they let the women do it. But when people realized how interesting and creative editing could be, then the men elbowed the women out of the way and kind of took over.”

In February 2007, she was awarded BAFTA’s Academy Fellowship, the organization’s highest accolade.

She received the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.’s award for career achievement on Jan. 9, 2016, becoming only the second editor to receive a lifetime honor from the L.A. critics, after the late Dede Allen in 1999.

Coates received ACE’s lifetime achievement award in 1995. And she was awarded an honorary Oscar, for her lifetime of work, at the 2016 Governors Awards ceremony.

She was married to director and assistant director Douglas Hickox until his death in 1988.

Coates is survived by three children: actor, writer and director Anthony Hickox; film editor Emma E. Hickox; and director and editor James D.R. Hickox.