Best Film Editing
Sequences of All-Time:
From the Silents to the Present

Part 5

Best Film Editing Sequences of All-Time
Film Title/ Director & Editor and Film Description

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

d. Arthur Penn
Film Editor: Dede Allen

This Arthur Penn film, with many opposing moods and shifts in tone (from serious to comical), was a cross between a gangster film, tragic-romantic traditions, a road film and buddy film, and screwball comedy. It exemplified many of the characteristics of experimental film-making from the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) movement of its time.

The most classic of all its scenes was the shocking and tense "ballet of blood" finale - an ultra-violent, country backroads ambush set for Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), the doomed lovers. The ambush scene was marvelously choreographed and edited, with multiple cameras shooting at different speeds.

Knowing that the couple will be driving by, C.W. Moss' father Malcolm (Dub Taylor) flagged down their car for help while faking a flat tire on his truck by the side of the road. He spoke the last lines of the film: "I've got a flat tire, and I ain't got no spare." Quick shots jumped through each moment:

  • Malcolm noticed an unexpected car coming down the road from the opposite direction - a possible shield for the two criminals
  • a flock of birds flew upward and startled everyone
  • thick shrubs rustled across the road
  • Malcolm dove beneath his truck for safety

In their final freeze-frame of life, with a silent glance at each other, Bonnie and Clyde revealed both panic and love in their faces - knowing that something was ominously wrong and that they were facing their ultimate destruction, the natural result of the escalating violence.

Clyde was outside the car and Bonnie was trapped in the car behind the sedan's steering wheel. Then from the point of view of Sheriff Hamer's deputies, their frenzied corpses writhed in slow-motion as they were gunned down, 'shot,' and riddled with bullets - even a piece of Clyde's brain was propelled from his head [Note: it was a deliberate reference to the JFK assassination, in which a piece of Kennedy's brain was seen flying in the Zapruder film.].

They died cinematically-beautiful, abstracted deaths to accentuate the romance of the myths and the larger-than-life legends that surrounded them. Their corpses twitched to life and were re-animated by gunfire - involuntary dances of death. Their last moment of 'life' occurred when Clyde rolled over gently in slow-motion and Bonnie's arm dangled unnaturally and then stopped moving. Bonnie's flowing blonde hair, streaked in sunlight and gently blowing in the breeze, cascaded down in many arcs as she hung out of the car.

Bullitt (1968)

d. Peter Yates

(Best Film Editing Winner: Frank P. Keller)

This classic car-chase/cop film contained one of the screen's all-time best car chase sequences (at up to 110 miles per hour), for the 10-minute sequence filmed with hand-held cameras up and down the narrow, hilly streets of San Francisco.

Police lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) was chasing after criminals in his car through hazardous intersections. Bullitt's car was a Highland Green, 1968 four-speed Ford Mustang Fastback GT (California yellow-on-black license JJZ 109) powered by a 390/4V big block engine, in pursuit of a black, 1968 four-speed Dodge Charger 440 R/T.

The classic chase ended when the bad guys lost control and crashed into a gas station - with a fiery explosion. However, there were continuity errors in the sequence, including an oft-viewed green VW Beetle, and the 6 hubcaps that fell off the Charger's wheels.

Once Upon a Time in the West (C'era una Volta il West) (1968, It.)

d. Sergio Leone
Film Editor: Nino Baragli

This Italian western had one of the most memorable opening credit sequences of all time.

At an isolated and deserted train station (with a pesky fly, dripping ceiling, creaky windmill, and noisy telegraph machine) in Flagstone, Arizona, three unnamed gunman assembled:

  • Stony (Woody Strode)
  • Snaky (Jack Elam)
  • Knuckles (Al Mulock)

The trio was sent by cold-blooded, blue-eyed killer Frank (Henry Fonda in a cast-against-type role) to await the arrival of a train.

Finally, a mysterious stoic man with no name playing a harmonica (Charles Bronson) was let off the late-arriving train. He fatefully mentioned that the trio of gunmen "brought two too many" horses and after a shootout, he was proven right -- all three gunmen were killed.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

d. Stanley Kubrick
Film Editor: Ray Lovejoy

Stanley Kubrick's landmark, science fiction classic, in the opening Dawn of Man sequence, contained one of the most famous jump-cuts in cinematic history.

In slow-motion, the man-ape leader flung his weapon, a fragmented piece of the bone, exultantly and jubilantly into the air. it flew and spun upwards, twisting and turning end-over-end.

It was followed by a jump-cut of four million years transitioning into the next segment. In a great transitionary, associative image to the next segment many eons later, the tossed bone (tool/weapon) instantly rotated and dissolved into a white, orbiting space satellite from Earth. It was symbolic of a technological instrument, tool, weapon (orbiting nuclear platform) or machine from another era that was ultimately derived from the first tool-weapon.

The toss of the ape-man's bone was metaphoric for a lift-off from Earth toward the Moon, and for the tremendous technological advances that had occurred in the interim.

Best Film Editing Sequences
(chronological order)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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