Philip French – The Observer
Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editingby Jim Clark with John H Myers – review

Oscar-winning editor Jim Clark’s hilarious memoir offers valuable insights into an often overlooked aspect of cinema

Numerous directors and a fair number of cinematographers have written autobiographies, but although there are useful books on the art and craft and editing, the only memoir I’ve come across by a film editor is the eye-opening When the Shooting Stops… the Cutting Begins by Ralph Rosenblum, the New York editor who saved Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall from catastrophe. It appeared in 1979, and towards the end of it Rosenblum says of his trade: “The profession selects in favour of caution, timidity, self-abnegation, tact, ‘a diplomacy’, says British editor James Clark, ‘which would normally put us straight into parliament’.” Now in retirement, Jim Clark has put aside his diplomacy to write a revealing, funny, devastatingly frank account of a lifetime spent editing film.

Unlike many people in films, Clark has no social or intellectual chips on his shoulder. His father, a well-off Lincolnshire businessman, gave him a cine camera and projector when he was young, and he became fascinated by cinema and ran a film society at Oundle, the public school where he boarded and where the comic writer and performer Arthur Marshall was a sympathetic teacher. In the late 1940s Clark avoided a career in the family printing firm by jumping ship while at the London School of Printing to join a small film company and move on to an ill-paid job in the Ealing Studios editing department.

Except for a period directing commercials and several wholly insignificant British movies, his home was the cutting room, and from the 60s onwards he established important partnerships with Jack Clayton, Stanley Donen, John Schlesinger, David Puttnam (whom he accompanied to Hollywood, where he was briefly one of Puttnam’s executive vice-presidents at Columbia) and finally with Mike Leigh. We learn about his troubled first marriage to a wife who died suddenly leaving him with two children to raise, and a happy second one to a French editor, Laurence Méry-Clark, who was assigned in 1963 to assist him on Donen’s Charade, one of his happiest experiences. We also get a valuable account of movie production over the past 60 years and of the changing technology of editing.

In a contribution to Working for the Films, a 1947 symposium on movie-making, Sidney Cole, then supervising editor at Ealing (and subject of a snide aside by Clark), writes with disarming simplicity of the editor’s role. The writer, he says, deals with words before a production; the director deals with people during the film’s making; the editor deals with celluloid, assembling the picture in the cutting room when the shooting stops.

Clark puts it more dramatically. “We are the dream repairmen,” he declares. “That’s what we do. We repair other men’s dreams.” Recalling his hair-raising account of the disastrous year at Columbia with the rather vague, quixotic Puttnam, he speaks more brutally of his role. “In spite of my sophisticated title as a Columbia executive, my real job was studio mortician,” he writes. “When I received these films they were dead, and though I couldn’t bring them back to life, I could touch up the corpse.”

Of course his job was much more complicated and rewarding than this. Although his funniest stories are about salvage, the widely respected Clark was usually in at the beginning as a consultant to the director and producer, whether working on The Killing Fields, for which he won an Oscar, or the Bond movie The World is Not Enough, where his editing tasks included making the non-skiing Pierce Brosnan look like a piste artist. There is one occasion, however, when during a preproduction conference he was anxiously asked: “Can you save it?” The project was the pretentious 1999 art movie Onegin, the directorial debut of Martha Fiennes starring her brother, Ralph, with music by another brother, Magnus: “Martha was a high strung lady and seemed to shut off and stop listening when anything that contradicted her vision was suggested.”

Dealing with the Fiennes family, however, was no worse than enduring the furious rages of Clayton, Schlesinger and István Szabó, and they are no less ludicrous than such Hollywood figures as Barbra Streisand and Richard Donner, whose paths Clark crosses. Unquestionably the funniest episode in a hilarious book sees Clark called to Rome to make Franco Zeffirelli’s Young Toscanini watchable. The Italian director provides a high chair for Bambina, his Jack Russell, at a lunch for Clark and his wife. He turns up semi-inebriated at editing sessions, and whenever he doesn’t like an edit shouts out: “You cut to the beech,” meaning put in a close-up of his miscast star, Elizabeth Taylor.

Clark has many regrets, including not editing the first Harry Potter movie. However, he ends on a high note, not about the future of editing, concerning which he has serious doubts, but on his collaboration with Mike Leigh on Vera Drake : “It was just about the quickest job I’ve ever done because Mike and I were in sync. He rarely looked at other takes, having trusted his editor, and there was nobody else to please. It was a very happy experience.” At last he had met someone in the movie business as sane as himself.

This important book, which itself would have benefitted from a little editing, is published by a small company in Texas, a reflection of the reluctance of British publishers to take on serious books on less popular aspects of the cinema, and of university presses to bring out readable movie studies that lack fashionable academic credentials.

Andrew Pulver  – The Guardian

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing by Jim Clark
A rare insight into the life of the cutting room

Like the submerged nine-tenths of an iceberg, the workhorses and coalface-diggers of the British film industry have been shoved out of sight, working away unseen to support and ballast the marquee names out front. It’s only occasionally that we are afforded a glimpse of the subworld of the Ealing cutting rooms, the Pinewood sound stages, the Elstree canteen. The talent is not quite high-tone enough to attract the attentions of an admiring biographer (David Lean, Emeric Pressburger, et al), but not quite so unregarded that self-publication is the only option. Think Val Guest’s So You Want to Be in Pictures, or Roy Ward Baker’s The Director’s Cut.

But they were directors. It’s still rarer to hear from the true backroom boys, and editor Jim Clark is one of the very few to have put his head above the parapet. No one would pretend his memoir is a polished literary endeavour, but his journey from rewind boy on an Ealing comedy (The Titfield Thunderbolt) to hobnobbing in the cutting room with Mike Leigh takes him – and us – on a trip through the vagaries of a working life in British cinema, with all its ups and downs. Clark’s path takes him through the 60s new wave, the 1970s collapse and a late 70s/early 80s trek out to Hollywood, by which time he was sufficiently well established to merit a call from the Bond production line to take on The World Is Not Enough.

Very much a product of the film society generation, Clark went from a wartime boarding school, where he helped order the films for the Sunday screenings, to a traineeship at Ealing, then in the midst of the great series of comedies that still bear its marque. An apprenticeship in those days meant a thorough grounding in dull, repetitive tasks – joining film, marking tape, ferrying cans of stock. Despite the wearisome work, Clark has a fine eye, and offers insightful detail. “The studio,” he says, “was class-ridden. You knew your station and stayed in it, or incurred wrath in high places … A big sign exhorted us to great effort, just like something you might have seen in China during the cultural revolution. It read, ‘The Studio That Pulls Together.'”

After briefly endangering his ascent up the ladder by having the temerity to edit a Children’s Film Foundation production, Clark found himself the beneficiary of Hollywood’s postwar decamp to Europe. Stanley Donen was the first big-name director to take him on (“Stanley was the first person I ever saw eating yogurt”), giving Clark his first shot as lead editor on the Yul Brynner comedy Surprise Package (“I already had a fair inkling … that Brynner was not God’s gift to comedy”). Clark would soon progress on to his first significant project, 1961’s The Innocents, the atmospheric ghost story adapted from The Turn of the Screw. One anecdote demonstrates how deeply media attention can affect even the most disinterested artist: Clark relates how The Innocents’ director, Jack Clayton, smashed a plaster model of the film’s set in a rage because he was half an hour late reporting the reaction from the film’s first press screening.

The Innocents put Clark into the premier league, and he went on to form a close working relationship with one of the leading lights of the British 60s generation, John Schlesinger. He cut five films for Schlesinger – but not, annoyingly, Midnight Cowboy, though he did work on it unofficially, credited as “creative consultant”, after Schlesinger fell out with the American editor.

Clark briefly had his own career as a director – resulting in some of his funniest stories. He shot a documentary for the army in Germany, and was appalled by the chaos he unleashed after giving the soldiers beer (“events had taken on the atmosphere of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch”). He finally packed in directing after filming a disastrous Ned Sherrin script called Rentadick (“it comes up regularly on late night television to embarrass me”).

Of his time working for David Puttnam when the latter was CEO of Columbia in the late 80s, he says it was a lurch from one nightmare to another. In hindsight, of course, we know Puttnam’s days at the studio were numbered. Ironically, the film that was most loudly mocked after Puttnam left was a proper masterpiece, Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gyspies. (“Apparently there was much laughter … when it was announced it was in Serbian.”)

Now he’s retired, it’s evident that stories like Clark’s act as a kind of glue between different phases in cinema evolution, a reminder that film-making doesn’t stop dead when one movement runs out of steam and another emerges. It helps, too, if you are self-deprecating and level-headed about your achievements.

Tim Robey – The Telegraph

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing by Jim Clark: review
Tim Robey admires Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing by Jim Clark

Film editors aren’t just the unsung heroes of many a good movie, but specialists in raising the dead. Everything’s dumped in their lap, and to them falls the task of tinkering, tailoring, reconstructing – cuts here, inserts there – to make the best of both good and bad jobs. When the film’s a success, it’s hardly ever the editor who gets the credit, and when it looks badly edited, that’s not always their fault. Imagine a dinner scene where the stars try different things in every take, or gulp their wine down at random, and the poor editor has to choose between fluid continuity and good acting. It must be one of the most fiddly and stressful jobs in film.

The retired British editor Jim Clark spent 50-odd years in the cutting-room trenches, and has all the dirt on soured productions, having been caught in the middle of “creative differences” more times than you’d want to count. An Oscar-winner (for The Killing Fields, 1984) and close collaborator with Jack Clayton, John Schlesinger and others, he rose to that rare and lucrative, if not always artistically rewarding, level of industry recognition where you get hired late in the day to clean up other people’s messes. I imagine such maestros waltzing into post-production suites with the seen-it-all sangfroid of Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction. “Right, show me the body. OK, here’s what we’re going to do…”

The title of Clark’s memoir-cum-autobiography, Dream Repairman, addresses this particular side of his job – repairing other people’s dreams – and the bulk of it is devoted to the art and politics of movie salvage. Of course, there’s the rare Midnight Cowboy (1969) or Vera Drake (2004), where things went more or less swimmingly, and everyone stayed happy: no one wants to hear about these. We want to hear about the hour-long subplot that Clark summarily cut out of The Jackal (1997), so that it wouldn’t be three unwatchable hours long. How did he fix the meretricious script of Copycat (1995), and get it to make a small profit? It wasn’t simple.

Clark, conforming to a certain stereotype in his profession, can be on the grumpy and reactionary side. “There is a place in hell for Mr Dolby,” he says about overloud sound mixes, apropos The World Is Not Enough (1999). But he’s honest on everything that’s wrong with, say, The Mission (1986): “officially” an artistic success (nominated for Best Picture and six other Oscars) it was actually pretentious, badly miscast and an unsurprising box office failure, for all his efforts to save it.

It feels catty and pedantic to say so, but a major drawback with Dream Repairman is that it’s not very well edited. The top of every left-hand page thinks it’s called “The Dream Repairman”, and the back cover prefers “Repair” and “Man” separated by a space. “Unphased” is mistaken for a word, twice. We might let this sloppiness slide if Clark didn’t say, on page 52, “I am often curious if anyone has bothered to edit books at all.” Ouch! He is a good editor in serious need of a good editor, who might have refined the book’s clunky interweaving of his career and personal life.

Still, there’s always going to be a readership for memoirs full of juicy stories about film-set debacles, and Clark – unenviably for him – is in that prime Keitelian position of knowing where many, many bodies are buried. His short-lived career as a director (1970-74, including Rentadick) is a wince-inducing demonstration of how talent in one department of film-making doesn’t mean you can run the whole show, pace the careers of several famous editor-turned-directors (Robert Wise, David Lean). Almost in passing, we get an instructive look under the bonnet of the medium. Bit by bit, the technology has changed, from cut-and-paste manual joining to the latest click-and-drag AVID software, much to the infuriation of the veteran editor, who liked the tools of his trade immeasurably more when no one else could use them.