Introducing: Richard Kovitch


Richard Kovitch is a director and producer based in London, whose work has won awards in Europe and the US. He is currently developing several screenplays and a photography project. It’s difficult to talk of Richard’s writing – both his fiction and essays – without resorting to terminally familiar from film: the opening shot, the close-up, the tracking shot, the POV shot, these are techniques that Richard deploys with a precision that make his writing a truly immersive experience. For gorse Richard looks at the films of Nicolas Roeg, in particular, Roeg’s unique editing style:

Roeg’s preoccupation with the editor is worth emphasising in an era where the credit for film still remains unjustly carved up between the director, performer and writer. If you remain unconvinced of the relatively low esteem the editor is held in by the wider public, then consider how many famous editors you can actually name. A movie fan might muster Walter Murch, Thelma Schoonmaker and Dede Allen; the wider public would have drawn a blank long before. And yet the editor is arguably as crucial to shaping the film the audience will encounter as even the director. To understand the editing process is to understand what distinguishes film from all other art forms. It is also key to understanding Roeg’s work.

‘The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics – the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room.’ – Walter Murch

The history of ideas are difficult to trace, but Roeg’s signature, non-sequential editing style—most brilliantly expressed in the sex scene with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now— has its origins in productions that Roeg was involved in prior to his directing career, not least the films of Richard Lester, edited by Antony Gibbs. Gibbs delivered the original edit of Performance in 1968; the version finally released was re-cut in L.A. over the following two years by Donald Cammell with editor Frank Mazzola, who was responsible for the film’s highly revered opening sequence. What this serves to illustrate is how collaborative the making of a film is and how quickly radical new ideas can take hold and spread. Indeed, late 60s Hollywood sees a proliferation of this rapid cut style in several key films — Dede Allen’s work in Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Lou Lomabardo’s work in The Wild Bunch (1969), Donn Cambern’s work in Easy Rider (1969) — as the radical style of Godard and La Nouvelle Vague finally infiltrated the cutting rooms of Hollywood, though as Dede Allen illuminates, all these techniques had originally been pioneered in the 1920s by Russian filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

Roeg’s celebration of the editor as a lynchpin of the cinematic process not only sends praise to a much under sung profession, but it also helps us to understand what a film really is. Stanley Kubrick cited editing as being the only craft exclusive to filmmaking: ‘I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of filmmaking. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit.’ For anyone who has ever inhabited an edit suite for a pro-longed period of time, Kubrick’s assertions will strike a chord. It is a womb-like environment, isolated from the chaos of everyday life, where craft and technology can transform incoherent, disconnected images and sounds into a dream-like whole, capable of conveying both intense emotion and meaning. How the editor interacts with the material is open to differing practice. Some editors disregard the script after a preliminary read and try and make sense of the story from the rushes alone. Others have been on set and taken notes. Most begin editing the film long before the director has finished shooting, shaping it in solitude far removed from the wider mayhem of the production. This is why coverage — the amount of footage there is to work with in the edit — is a key obsession of directors and editors alike. Without coverage, they limit the options in the edit. Roeg reiterates this point, ‘Shoot a lot. Never say ‘cut’. In the edit you can live the film again.’

Issue one of gorse is available now.