Ralph and his wife Davida, Summer 1995

Ralph Rosenblum

I finally had an opportunity to contact him when I was asked to fill in for him at Boston University in the late 80's- a three day workshop on editing for Professor Sam Kauffmann. And we talked. We taught much the same way, it turned out; showing a first cut, then a recut. I used troublesome sequences from a first feature I cut. He used a whole show! "Worth ten lectures," he said. I debated with him only one issue: the way he invented the elegant monochrome-to-color transitions in The Night They Raided Minsky's, a film he salvaged for its producer without much help from its director.

He repeated what he said in his book: the effect "came from anger"-- it was his impatience with an assistant which resulted in extending the head of a shot with a dupe b/w trim because the color trim couldn't be located, and suddenly discovering he had a marvelous, inexpensive and effective transition in his hands. I pointed out that anger may have triggered it, but 1) his head was in that special place tuned to discovery, and 2) he acted on it, he used it. That's what separates the creative from the hack. I do believe this, but I also think I was trying in some feeble way to wean him away from the seductive idea that to be creative, you have to get angry and overexcited. I was afraid for him; the reason I was filling in for him was a heart bypass.

He was open to any experiment and possibility that would enhance the director's vision and would enrich our perception. (He decried the idea of designed master shots with no coverage as the best way for the filmmaker to shoot himself in the foot.) Time and again, to our delight, he gave movies a crisp and precise heartbeat. That his own should fail after decades of brilliant service is one of life's bitter ironies.

Ralph extended my life with some simple yet vivid imagery of his heart condition. "When you see nine emergency room technicians hovering over you, you re-evaluate your habits." I did. I quit smoking, changed my diet and added regular excercise. If you're in sedentary work; you gotta get to a gym! I try to share this with friends who need it-- at least those mature enough to take it in the spirit intended.

Ralph spent his last years teaching at Columbia University, and conducting summer editing seminars at the prestigious International Film & TV Workshops in Rockport, Maine, where his ashes are interred.Ultimately he influenced a whole new troop of filmmakers and editors.

He gave the craft greater respect and visibility. He also embraced new technologies like digital nonlinear. He was one of America's editor laureates. His craft and extreme sensitivity is preserved forever, confirming with fresh audiences there is nothing mediocre about a Rosenblum cut.

Unless I'm mistaken and he's finally appeared in a more recent edition of Who's Who, we need to get him nominated, folks! Otherwise, we can't really treat the publication seriously.

We lost one of America's greatest film editors in the summer of 1995 and his passing went virtually unnoticed outside the industry- and barely acknowledged within it. Stay with me here for a minute; you've seen this man's work. Ralph Rosenblum was the pioneering editor of The Pawnbroker, A Thousand Clowns, Take the Money and Run, Goodbye Columbus, The Producers, and of Woody Allen's Oscar winner ANNIE HALL.

Ralph was an idol and mentor of mine. Ralph's work and book When The Shooting Stops helped inform this editor's values and inspired a willingness to take the road less travelled (and often less paid).

As a boy Ralph was a jazz cataloguing fanatic. It was an avocation which prepared him for the enormous organizational skill set required for editing. Ralph began his distinguished career as assistant to Robert Flaherty's editor Helen van Dongen on location on The Louisiana Story, and moved on to collaborate with the likes of Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen. Several of his assistants (like Carol Littleton) went on to forge careers of their own. And Ralph went on to direct a few of his favorite projects.

We never formally met! We once stared briefly at eachother down a corridor at Ross-Gaffney Editorial in New York, 1982, during hectic editing assignments. I had dropped into his cutting room earlier; he was out. His assistant was an acquaintance and I was visiting her as well. I noted among the tools lying about were the record albums he often used to temp-track a particular beat and mood against a sequence, including Stravinsky's Firebird and other classics he would never be without. I didn't see Handel's Messiah-- " a sure sign the film is in trouble", so it's possible the film wasn't-- a consultation cut of Tristan and Isolde with Richard Burton, as I recall.

Another Rosenblum connection occurs to me: Sidney Meyers, editor and filmmaker (THE QUIET ONE, 1942, a true urban docudrama classic, way ahead of time). I never got to meet him either! My buddy John Kaufman was Sidney's assistant on the Theatre Guild production of SLAVES (1968) while cutting on location in Lousiana. It was a torrid melodrama with Stephen Boyd, Dionne Warwick and a raft of great black actors- probably why Sidney took the job- it had everybody except Poitier! Ralph early on worked with Sidney Meyers too, during a stint editing armed forces propaganda for the Office of War Information.

Ralph considered Sidney one of HIS mentors, and if you see THE QUIET ONE you'll understand why it's part of the cinema landscape. Shot on gritty NY location, with spare, lean narration written by James Agee, the visual storytelling and pacing of this featurette is magnificently crafted around the personality and internal struggle of the film's central character, a mute black boy. This was before World War Two, folks! When Meyers passed away the year after SLAVES was released- with many projects unrealized- Ralph helped coordinate the City College Sidney Meyers Memorial Scholarship Fund for deserving students.

I had pinned a lunch invitation to his cutting room door and then, time wouldn't allow it. So there was this brief stare down the corridor at an odd moment-- "Geez," I thought, "if that's Ralph, he's tall!" I wonder what he thought of me-- that the putz who invited me to lunch? And then...back to work.

My students mill about the Rosenblum rock and sapling Ralph's memorial (click to enlarge)

When the Shooting Stops...The Cutting Begins
Ralph Rosenblum and Robert Karen
(New York: Viking Press, 1979)
ISBN: 0670759910

Also published by Penguin Books, 1980
ISBN: 014005698X (pbk.)