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Beck, Reginald (1902-1992)


Main image of Beck, Reginald (1902-1992)

After emigrating with his family from Russia to England in 1915, Reginald Beck entered Gainsborough's Islington Studios in 1927, initially as a camera assistant, on films including The Vortex (d. Adrian Brunel, 1928) and several directed by T. Hayes Hunter. Beck was briefly associated with the specialist film doctoring firm Brunel and Montagu Ltd. His first major assignment there was to edit a section of the travel film Dassan (d. Cherry and Ada Kearton, 1930), which featured "penguins courting, penguins playing, hunting, slipping on ice, and from this mass of stuff I had to devise a story". Beck assisted John Seabourne before establishing himself as an editor in the 1930s. Independently minded, he prided himself on always freelancing rather than being tied to a particular studio. In this early phase of his career Beck worked primarily on quota quickies, including some at the more expensive end of the spectrum produced at Fox's Wembley Studios in the mid-1930s.

This Man Is News (d. David MacDonald, 1938) and The Stars Look Down (d. Carol Reed, 1939) helped move Beck's career beyond quota production. Of Reed he said: "He would cover a scene in a variety of angles all the way through so you never knew what he envisaged. Even during editing, Reed would want to try out different ways of cutting scenes". Employed to edit In Which We Serve (d. Noël Coward/David Lean, 1942), Beck left in protest after Lean re-cut one of his sequences without consulting him. Beck's major achievement during the Second World War was his work on Henry V (d. Laurence Olivier, 1944), which included helping inexperienced director Olivier write the detailed shooting script. Subsequent assignments included an associate producer credit for Hamlet (d. Olivier, 1948) and one film as co-director, The Long Dark Hall (co-d. Anthony Bushell, 1951). Beck also supported another first time (solo) director, Emeric Pressburger, on Twice Upon a Time (1953).

Beck concluded his career editing sixteen films for director Joseph Losey. In The Go-Between (1971) sharply cut, initially cryptic alternations between time-past and time-present are deftly integrated into the narrative. Impressed by his work on this film, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder sought Beck out to edit the American version of Despair (West Germany/France, 1978). As film historian Thomas Elsaesser points out, Despair was Fassbinder's first attempt at a European art film: "For a Fassbinder film, the narration makes quite unusual demands on an audience, with imagined scenes and flash-forwards abruptly interspersed in the narrative flow". Beck already had considerable experience of this type of editing through his work with Losey. Losey considered him such a vital collaborator that he coaxed the octogenarian Beck out of retirement to edit Steaming (1985), the last film both men worked on.

Roy Perkins/Martin Stollery, British Film Editors: The Heart of the Movie (BFI Publishing, 2004)

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Thumbnail image of Accident (1967)Accident (1967)

A fatal car accident triggers an intense psychological drama

Thumbnail image of Go-Between, The (1971)Go-Between, The (1971)

Acclaimed adaptation of L.P. Hartley's novel about a boy's loss of innocence

Thumbnail image of Hamlet (1948)Hamlet (1948)

Laurence Olivier's multi-Oscar-winning Shakespeare adaptation

Thumbnail image of Henry V (1944)Henry V (1944)

Laurence Olivier turns Shakespeare into rousing propaganda

Thumbnail image of Stars Look Down, The (1939)Stars Look Down, The (1939)

Breakthrough film for Carol Reed, a progressive pit community drama

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