Let us start with a riddle. What is the connection between a blood-soaked Sissy Spacek unleashing a school massacre, the Rebel Alliance pilots desperately attacking the Death Star, Kevin Bacon dancing vigorously to his own beat, Matthew Broderick clowning around in Chicago, Michael Douglas going berserk with guns on Los Angeles streets, Tom Cruise hanging down on a line from a ceiling or Burj Khalifa sky-scraper, and Jamie Foxx working wonders on a piano? The obvious remark is, of course, the inexpressible magic of cinema, but there is also a less abstract answer: the connection is the editor. A man who made sure the abovementioned moments from Carrie, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Footloose, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Falling Down, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and Ray were not only a series of moving pictures but also absorbing, internally coherent sequences that arose from what happened earlier in the given film and foreshadowed what would follow next.
Paul Hirsch, as he was the editor of all of these films, has been working in the film industry for half a century, and collaborated with such filmmakers as Brian De Palma, George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Herbert Ross, John Hughes, Joel Schumacher, Taylor Hackford, and Duncan Jones. In the past, he worked with Moviola and other tools available for editors, creating the given picture’s rhythm, mood and audiovisual character by physically cutting and pasting bits of film; now he works with the latest editions of expensive computer software but his style and editor’s creed did not change a bit. What is important is the story and the characters that make it what it is and move forward, irrespective of the film’s genre; the same applies to the low-budget shocking 70s thriller Sisters and recent Hollywood’s fantasy spectacle Warcraft about a war between the orcs and the humans.
During his distinguished career Paul Hirsch was honored with numerous awards and accolades, including an Academy Award® for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (shared with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew). We are therefore proud to announce that in a couple of months Paul Hirsch will personally come to Bydgoszcz to accept Camerimage Award to Editor with Unique Visual Sensitivity.
Hirsch’s mentor and the filmmaker who shaped him as an editor and helped in perfecting his skills was Brian De Palma. Starting with 1970's Hi, Mom! they have so far made together eleven feature films, the last being 2000's Mission to Mars. Their projects are often considered masterworks of the art of editing. Like in 1981’s Blow Out, a tale about a sound engineer who is accidently implicated in a politically-motivated murder, in which Hirsch and De Palma created, in parallel with a standard narrative, an amalgam of images and sounds that establishes new ways of interpretation and significantly alters how the story is perceived. Another brilliant example of their work is 1996’s Mission: Impossible, a classic spy thriller made and told in ways of then-modern action films – as in the thrilling and suspenseful sequence of a bold break into the CIA headquarters, or the breathtaking sequence with a helicopter, a train and a narrow tunnel. Hirsch stated in one of his interviews: “Brian taught me a lot about the difference between cutting trailers and cutting features. And my two other great teachers were trial and error.”
Before Paul Hirsch started working as a feature film editor, he had to go through a number of different jobs and learn different ways of his craft. He began his career quite modestly, in a New York-based shipping room. There, he met a negative cutter who took him under his wings as a trainee and taught how to use Moviola, among many other things. This new set of skills opened Hirsch many possibilities, and made it possible to start working for film trailer editor Chuck Workman. He gave Hirsch a task of cutting down a featurette about the making of Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, and afterwards let him do on his own the same type of material for Ken Hughes’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Then, Hirsch moved onto editing trailers for films like Peter Medak’s Negatives and Brian De Palma’s Greetings, the latter being produced by his brother, Chuck Hirsch.
This was the real beginning of Hirsch and De Palma’s successful, decades-long collaboration that resulted in countless moments of cinematic joy for viewers around the world. And because De Palma was friends with Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and other rebels of the New Hollywood, soon Hirsch has found himself working on much bigger projects. One of them, the most famous space opera in the history of cinema, made him legendary; he started working on Star Wars as one of three editors, but finished the work on his own. Among the many scenes he was personally responsible for, we can find the annihilation of Alderaan, the famous Mos Eisley cantina duel, the fight for life and death between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, as well as most of the sequence of the daredevil attack on the Death Star. Academy Award® for Star Wars changed not only Hirsch’s personal and professional life, but also altered the way of thinking of the American film industry that fell in love with this style of editing, elevated soon by Hirsch himself when he worked for George Lucas and Irvin Kershner on the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
Paul Hirsch always stayed true to his editing creed of adjusting the rhythm and the sense of time and space to the film’s story and the characters’ personalities and emotional arcs. He also made his work invisible to the viewer’s eye, just as any editor should. That is precisely why, after the success of A New Hope, he did not want to lose himself in cutting the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Instead he looked for interesting challenges. He found them aplenty in films such as Herbert Ross’s popular musical Footloose, John Hughes’s buddy comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and Joel Schumacher’s urban thriller Falling Down in which he assisted the director and actor Michael Douglas in infusing the story with the kind of raw energy that made the protagonist’s anger and internal struggle even more palpable. But then Hirsch also used his skills in many other genres, including Steve Miner’s horror-comedy Lake Placid, or Herbert Ross’s comedy-drama Steel Magnolias. He reached another milestone of his career with Taylor Hackford’s Ray, in which the way and the rhythm of cutting were made accordingly with the personality and musical style of Ray Charles. For his work on that film he earned another Academy Award® nomination.
During the last couple of years Paul Hirsch [has] worked mostly on big-budget Hollywood spectacles, but the American editor did not forget the essentials of his job: character motivation and drama, and storytelling that will make the audiences sitting in a dark screening room forget about the problems of everyday life. We are excited that Paul Hirsch will soon visit Bydgoszcz for the 25th anniversary of the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE. By accepting our Award to Editor with Unique Visual Sensitivity he will join the ranks of such eminent editors as Walter Murch, Martin Walsh, Joel Cox, Alan Heim, Chris Lebenzon, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Pietro Scalia. Additionally, Paul Hirsch will meet the festival’s participants during a Q&A session after the screening of his film, to which event we already sincerely invite everyone attending Camerimage.